Vampire Weekend at Red Rocks, 5/20/13
Last night at Red Rocks, Vampire Weekend showed all the strength that has made it so compelling since the release of its first record five years ago. From Ezra Koenig's effortless falsetto and drummer Chris Tomson's rollicking drum rolls that eerily echo old surf rock to Rostam Batmanglij's multi-tasking between guitar, synth effects and backup vocals, the outfit was all in fine form.
The band's new record, Vampires of the City, just dropped about a week ago, and this live outing gave the outfit a chance to spotlight its old and new material at once. That side-by-side structure showed just how much the quartet has come along, even since 2010's Contra. Fresh off the rush of releasing a new record, the band seems confident as it heads into its creative future.
That's not to say that Vampire Weekend shied away from its old material. The set list pulled from the best moments of Vampires of the City and Contra. After coming onto a Red Rocks stage decorated with massive half-segments of Greek columns and an elaborate Victorian mirror, the group played four older tunes -- "Cousins," "White Sky," "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa" and "I Stand Corrected."
The performance of "Diane Young," as well as renditions of other tunes from the new record like "Step," "Unbelievers" and "Everlasting Arms," showed the act's impressive growth. Koenig's guitar work was more precise, Tomson's drumming was more refined and Batmanglij's sampling/synth input was downright dizzying. The new material gave durable favorites like "Horchata" and rare gems like "A-Punk" more meaning. The songs from Vampire Weekend added a new dimension to crowd pleasers like "Campus" and "Walcott."
Vampire Weekend is a band that's still pushing their creative boundaries and honing its skills. That much was clear in the range of the setlist, a selection that consisted of less than twenty tunes.
Continue reading for a recap of Of Monsters and Men's set.
Earlier in the evening, a confident and sterling opening set by Of Monsters and Men was a perfect complement to the dynamism of Vampire Weekend's performance. The sextet from Iceland offered the crowd all the requisite elements of a large-scale stadium show with set dressing that included an elaborate light show and a trio of lighted canvas globes.
Lead vocalists Nanna Hilmarsdóttir and Ragnar Pórhallsson traded turns on the mic, sometimes swapping verses and coming together for the chorus. The touring version of the group also included pianist, trumpeter and drummer Ragnhildur Gunnarsdóttir, an addition that added an epic feel to the band's instrumentation.
Indeed, the instrumentation was what made Of Monsters and Men's set pop. Between the two pianos, two acoustic guitars, lead electric guitar, trumpet, accordions, drum kit and the solo tom drum at the center of the stage that band members took turns smacking with mallets, even the tamest C-D-G chord combinations sounded like symphonies.
With the band's knack for musical contours and lush sounds, their breakout single, "Little Talks," sounded downright symphonic. The group stripped down their sound for an odd encore of a single song -- a second, stripped-down version of "Little Talks" that Pórhallsson called a "remix."
It felt like an odd way of milking the group's best-known hit, but even the repetition of "Little Talks" couldn't cheapen an impressive and sincere opening performance, one that included massive clap-alongs from the crowd and the musicians veering into the first row of the amphitheater. Like the performance by Vampire Weekend, the set by Of Monsters and Men was an energetic showing by a band that's poised for a good deal of growth.
Personal Bias: I can't get over how much more crisp and precise Koenig's guitar work sounds on the new Vampire Weekend tunes.
Random Note: Of Monsters and Men delivered a solid version of the Yeah Yeah Yeahs tune "Skeleton."
By the Way: From the WTF files: A group of about ten in row twenty laid out an entire buffet on the ground in front of their seats. People looking for seats, vendors and other unfortunate passersby had to literally leap over their hummus, carrots and bread to get past.
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