Concert Reviews

Vampire Weekend at Red Rocks Amphitheatre - 09.03.10

Vampire Weekend
Dum Dum Girls • Beach House
09.03.10 | Red Rocks Amphitheatre

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Dum Dum Girls opened the show with a notable display of confidence and music reminiscent of Elastica with a '60s girl-group vibe. The combination of chiming textures and flowing atmospheres in the guitar work gave the Girls an expansive backdrop for their expert harmonies, while the voice of Dee Dee Penny recalled the sassy but wise flavor of Chrissie Hynde and the worldly and weighty feel of Marianne Faithfull.

"Baby Don't Go" was the only quiet, overtly sentimental and melancholy song of the set, but the band made even that seem gently defiant. Penny's highly emotive facial expressions really gave each song an emotional honesty that's hard to convey in such a large setting.

The music of Beach House is much too intimate for a large outdoor setting. But somehow the band made it work at Red Rocks -- one of the few such places where it's still possible to pull off intimacy despite being among thousands of people. On stage, the band projected solid colors and patterns matching the cover of Teen Dream, its latest effort, on three white pyramidal structures.

Beach House performed as a quartet this time around, which allowed it to explore a far greater range of specialized and improvised sounds than when it performed (and perhaps still performs) as a two-piece. "Chamber of Hearts" drew cheers from people actually familiar with the band.

On "Norway," Victoria Legrand sounded like she'd also learned a thing or two from Broken English and Strange Weather-era Marianne Faithfull. What's striking about this song is how Beach House takes jazz and bleeds it into dream pop, resulting in an alloy unique to the act.

All through the set, the group moved with an unself-conscious enthusiasm for the music, like adults surrendering to an impulse to be children at play while engaging in an artistic endeavor. The set ended with a characteristically majestic rendering of "10 Mile Stereo."

Enough gross comparisons to mid-to-late-'80s Paul Simon and post-'77-era Talking Heads have been heaped on Vampire Weekend. And while you'd be right in thinking that Vampire Weekend is not quite in the same league as either of those artists -- especially if you hold those acts sacred -- the band performed its songs with a quirky sense of humor and fun.

It was surprising how many songs people sang along with. The most memorable sing-along occurred on "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa," during which the band invited everyone to sing the monosyllabic chorus. It's also the song where the guys had the stones to name-check Peter Gabriel. The kitschy use of vocoder on "California English" drew a cheer and chuckle from the crowd. The effect in the context of that song was ridiculous, if inventive.

Perhaps the ultimate charm of this band is that it is clued into what appeals to the musically innocent, post-teenage music enthusiast in its listeners. You have to admire a group like Vampire Weekend that inspires such a passionate response from its fans without inciting them to violent emotion.

CRITIC'S NOTEBOOK Personal Bias: Still not sold on Vampire Weekend. Random Detail: The upper area of Red Rocks seemed to be largely shut down. By the Way: It's surprising how many people talk, at length, louder than the mains at Red Rocks while bands are performing.

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Tom Murphy is a writer, visual artist and musician from Aurora, Colorado. He was a prolific music writer for Westword and a documenter of the Denver music scene.