Concert review: Vampire Weekend

Staff Writer
Columbus Alive

"I can't do it alone," cooed Vampire Weekend singer/guitarist Ezra Koenig in the midst of a gorgeous "Step" during the band's performance at a crowded LC Pavilion on Monday. "I can't do it alo-oo-one."

Fortunately he didn't have to. Though the frontman was asked to do much of the heavy lifting on past tours, these days the band's concerts rely far more on the musical interplay between the four mates: Koenig, bassist Chris Baio, drummer Chris Tomson and multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij. Tomson, in particular, was a constant revelation, whether he was pounding nails on "A-Punk" or pulling back for "Everlasting Arms," a twinkling hymn of a song that built to a near-symphonic close.

The band ostensibly performed here in support of its most recent studio album, Modern Vampires of the City, which surfaced in May, but the set functioned as a Vampire Weekend primer of sorts, drawing equally from the group's three studio recordings.

This wasn't always a good thing.

When Koenig and Co. dipped into the past, particularly on a watered-down "Horchata," the songs sounded somehow smaller and more precious, like dollhouse miniatures. And while tunes like "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" and "Oxford Comma," both built around creeping guitar lines that wore a heavy African influence like uncomfortable clothing, might not have lacked for muscle, the overwrought lyrics (Koenig rhymes Louis Vuitton with, uh, Reggaeton on the former) sometimes masked the delicacy of the sweet, simple melodies.

Newer songs, in contrast, tended to sound bigger and bolder, incorporating weird sonic flourishes - Koenig's distorted vocals on "Step," the staccato stabs of keyboard spiking "Unbelievers," the high-pitched, kid-sucking-down-helium vocal sample weaving through the chorus of "Ya Hey" - and a darker lyrical sensibility. While past cuts could have passed for the soundtrack to a carefree summer day in Nantucket, newer tunes like "Diane Young" (a buzzing rocker about an out-of-control gal with "the luck of a Kennedy") and "Unbelievers" (a galloping gem born of religious intolerance) sported a welcome sense of cynicism and a jittery urgency that bled into the evening's performance.

If Vampire Weekend pushed toward a more expansive, wide-screen sound befitting the outdoor setting, opener Sky Ferriera appeared to be doing everything in her power to disappear into it.

The emerging singer/songwriter appeared onstage wearing dark sunglasses and an oversized camouflage jacket, and she tended to seek refuge amidst the clattering, electro-steeped backdrop rather than forcing herself atop it.

Early in the set Ferriera also addressed the controversies that have swirled around her in recent weeks (on Sept. 15 the singer and boyfriend Zachary Smith of DIIV were arrested in Saugerties, New York, and the two face charges ranging from driving with stolen license plates to heroin possession), saying, "I'd like to say something, but I'm not allowed. Things aren't what they seem."