Vampire Weekend’s demos immediately caught my attention when I heard their CD-R demos 11 years ago. The raw sound of their Casio keyboards, upbeat drums, and catchy African-style guitar riffs that gave off a Paul Simon ‘Graceland’ vibe gave me assurance that indie rock would soon be entering a refreshing new chapter filled with vibrant melodies, catchy world music guitar hooks, and really clever lyrics (‘Who gives a fuck about an Oxford comma?’). Two weeks later, their debut album would be released and be the most talked about and replayable album of the year. A month after that, the band played a free instore show at Amoeba Records in Hollywood. That night, I witnessed what would become the jumping off point for not only their career but the start of a movement, one which dozens of indie bands mimicked their style like the catchy indie pop sounds of Ra Ra Riot, Grouplove, Cayucas, and Surfer Blood. The rest, as bad writers always say, is history. Soon came an SNL appearance, large festival bills, and movie soundtracks— all within that first year.
Now, a grammy award and 4 albums later, Vampire Weekend is indie-rock royalty – and their coronation is arguably last week’s sold-out show at the Hollywood Bowl. Even on a good traffic day, reaching the Bowl takes as long as Frodo and Sam’s journey. So I unfortunately missed the opener sets of LA’s best Grateful Dead tribute band, Richard Pictures, and West Africa’s Tinariwen and just got into my seat as Vampire Weekend started 10 minutes early with the short but lively “Bambina” off their recent FOTB album before switching gears to “Unbelievers” off the Grammy-winning “Modern Vampires of the City.” The band, originally quartet, now travels with seven members ever since multi-instrumentalist and founding member Rostam Batmanglij left the band in 2016 to focus on producing. After playing the ska influenced “Holiday,” frontman Ezra Koenig said what everyone in the crowd was thinking: “Hollywood Bowl is one of the greatest venues in America, but stressful to get here.” The sold out crowd laughed and cheered in agreement.
The 7 piece then went into the African beat heavy “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” off their debut self-titled album and it didn’t take long into their set to realize how solid and in sync the chemistry was between all of the members. Both old and new songs had amazing jam sessions that allowed lead guitarist Brian Robert Jones to show off his guitar skills. The momentum kept building as the band powered through the Gypsy King vibes of “Sympathy.”
Keeping the audience at the Bowl is always a difficult task but Vampire Weekend did it. They got the crowd to sing en masse “I feel it in my bones, I feel it in my bones” to “Step” which is full of Ezra Koenig’s clever lyrics and drummer Chris Tomson’s roomy hip hop beats. Vampire Weekend’s new album “FOTB” (which took up 10 of the 30 songs performed) really stretched out the bands genre to a wider range than before. Not only do the new songs cover a lot of ground but they are executed perfectly. Soothing piano tunes like “My Mistake” left the crowd in a cheerful daze as they swayed back and forth. 11 songs in, the crowd stood up and danced to the loud marimbas in “Horchata” then remained standing and dancing for the remainder of what ended up being a 2 1⁄2 hour set. Vampire Weekend invited L.A.’s 3 piece sister band Haim, who are known for their r&b soft rock vibes, to the stage who added more dancing to the evening and lovely back up vocals to “This Life” which has a guitar riff that closely resembles Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl.”
The band BREEZED through their catalog, including the classic “A Punk” which still holds strong after all these years with its disco beats, ska style guitars, and refreshing flute synths. There’s no wrong way to dance to this song. The band were having so much fun on stage that they even let the crowd request songs such as Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys are Back in Town”, “Boston”, and “Giving Up the Gun.” Towards the end of the evening Ezra Koenig let the crowd know that, “Vampire Weekend comes from New York but L.A. is our
2nd home.” Ezra Koenig’s comment immediately took me back to that night 11 years ago when I saw Vampire Weekend perform at Amoeba and knew that they would achieve success. Vampire Weekend avoided the sophomore slump with their multi genre 2nd album “Contra”, won a grammy and toured the world with their 3rd album “Modern Vampires of the City”, and now successfully achieved what most bands with similar tenure fail to do: successfully reinvent their sound and live performance. Vampire Weekend displayed their latest feat loud and proud by performing one hell of a show at the legendary Hollywood Bowl.