For their first London performance in six years, Vampire Weekend bring prog rock, indie pop and a dose of their own quirky style to a very special show at Hackney’s Earth Theatre.
Vampire Weekend and most notably, socks with sandal wearing frontman Ezra Koenig don’t do normal well. To call them quirky would be an understatement. It’s that kooky charm and attitude however which propel this evening into truly something special. It’s fair to say no one knew what to expect coming into the intimate show at Hackney’s beautiful EartH theatre. The group have only just announced their fourth album and surprisingly apart from its spectacular few singles, its presence tonight is brief. Instead, it seems the group decided to use these set of small London shows as jam sessions, a live warm-up practising the old fan favourites ahead of their global tour.
It’s been six long years since the group performed in London but they couldn’t have picked a better place to return. Koenig frequently remarks in awe of EartH theatre and he’s certainly not wrong. The stunning venues acoustics and stage feel tailor-made for the now seven-piece collective. That’s the first noticeable difference for fans of the band since founding multi-instrumentalist member Rostam Batmanglij departed in 2016. The change to a collective, however, is inspired, instruments and percussion fill the set with life, the appearance now more akin to LCD Soundsystem with at least 4 keyboards, a piano, drum set, backing vocals and snake hips Chris Baio on bass.
The evening begins with the utterly transcendent and glorious ‘Harmony Hall’, as Koenig gradually builds to its triumphant chorus the crowd rise from their seats with him and that's where they all remain, dancing in tune with the band for the following 2-hour set. From here the band transition into their older hits, a quick run through of hits such as ‘Holiday’, ‘Cape Cod’ and ‘White Sky’ come at a frantic and fun pace.
The middle section of the evening is where things start to get very trippy and unconventional. My only complaint about some of the new singles released from Father Of The Bride is their short length, on record ‘Sunflower’ is a mere 2 minutes, tonight it's transformed into a 10 minute plus progressive rock epic and it's simply sublime, especially its aggressive guitar propelled outro. ‘2021’ also undergoes a transformation with a second ‘piano version’ following up the original. It’s a nice treat, especially considering its melody resonates so much better on the tinkling of the especially shipped over American Piano keys, a vocoder outro from Koenig also brings a few giggles. A surprising 8-minute rendition of SBRKT collaboration ‘New Dorp, New York’ also brings the psychedelic and transitions in effortlessly between classics ‘Horchata’ and ‘Hannah Hunt’.
The set came to a feverous and intense conclusion with ‘Cousins’, ‘A-Punk’ and ‘Oxford Comma’ sending the crowd into a nostalgic frenzy. An unexpectedly extended encore began with the new ballad ‘Big Blue’ which Koenig remarked ‘felt right’ to be played at a venue called Earth. The group skirted tradition once more when the turned their finale into a call and request segment in which Koenig and Co. would jam straight into any song the crowd desired. Harmony Hall’s spiritual predecessor ‘Finger Back’ got a hazy run out before the group found their stride with ‘Everlasting Arms’ and ‘M79’.
The breathless 2-hour set finally reached its conclusion with a gospel-infused one-two of the rapid ‘Worship You’ and ‘Ya Hey’ which saw Koenig raising his arms into the sky like a great pastor inviting the crowd into his sermon, the venue his chapel. For some, the theatrics of the evening; the long progressive rock solos, the request sections and quirky dancing may grate. But if you're a fan of the band or just love really high energy, fun and interactive live performance then Vampire Weekend’s return is simply unmissable.
Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa
2021 (album version)
2021 (piano version)
New Dorp New York (SBTRKT cover)
Finger Back (Request)
Everlasting Arms (Request)