Vampire Weekend’s “Father Of The Bride” Tour At Madison Square Garden, Friday, September 6th, 2019, Review
Ezra Koenig has sucked since 2013, everything since his classic review of Drake’s Nothing was The Same (in Talkhouse here) has been a steady spiral downwards: the boring Vampires Of The City sets, losing Rostam Batmanglij, moving to LA, having a kid with his girlfriend (actually, the having a son stuff is what’s good but don’t ruin a theme with facts) (and the girlfriend is -gasp- Rashida Jones), and the 18 song, incredibly overrated, pals with the smug alt asshole rockers (Haim, anyone?) on the scene, Father Of The Bride and, and, and… somewhere along the way Ezra and the his fellow six instrumentalists known as Vampire Weekend arrived at Madison Square Garden last night and it was way and above, head and shoulders, the best iteration of the band to date.
When we loved Vampire Weekend, those first three albums, there was, even then, even at Summerstage in 2008 in the pouring rain with Ezra pointing to Fifth Avenue and noting how he wrote the next song about a crosstown bus right over there, something was missing on stage. Sure, it was a dodgy situation (my cell was ruined forever after), but the boys from Columbia were too concerned with the precision of a very precise band to loosen up. The last time I saw em, I was front row at the General Society Library (here) and it was a drag. But last night…
LAST NIGHT: Ezra had a very strong band behind him (guitarist Brian Robert Jones and keyboardist Will Canzoneri were both brilliant, original bassist Chris Baio a hip shaking sex symbol) and in the nearly three hour, 32 song, career high evening took the entire band and audience members where the band had not gone before. And he had to because Angelique Kidjo was opening (I missed Despot) and I’ve had her in my sights for two years now as she followed a song for song cover of Talking Heads Remain In Light with a tribute to Celia Cruz (who I saw at MSG with Tito Puentes back in the day, so there), and who performed world music with a flair and a dance, and a step into the audience. Last night I said, “if Vampire Weekend are only hard as good…” and they were better than that.
Ezra claimed the performance was very important, a homecoming being streamed live by Live Nation on Twitter… and then he proved it. How on earth do you miss “Bambina” on Father Of The Bride? Well, it is the best song there. And while none of the other songs from the album hit half as hard, “Jerusalem, New York, LA” improved on stage, and the other eight? I hated none of them, plus the actively dreadful “Sunflower” gets an all out band up performance which takes the acoustic, finger picked blandness and works it into an American Beauty with guitarist Brian Roberts Jones astonishing. With the exception of an occasional lull, the band were all the fuck over it, hitting a highlight that has been the center of the set all year: “Diane Young” (the best moment of 2013 as well), “Cousins”, and “A-Punk” rocked like a motherfucking motherfucker: have they ever performed anything as alive as that “Cousins”? This was Vampire Weekend as hard rock stalwarts, gone the angular herky jerky bread and butter, gone the Paul Simon was here, gone even Rostam’s musicologist doodle daddle, replaced by a tight,, smart rock band, rocking the packed out, 20K (including behind the stage, where I sat in the 100s section for a staggering $120).
The first seven songs were an all out assault on the non believers, culminating in (wait for it) “Blake’s Got A New Face”. The set slows down, minimally, after that, but Ezra never weakens his grip on the band or the audience. The quality of songwriting could be simply as good as it gets, and nobody has ever questioned Ezra’s gifts as a lyricist. What they have questioned is his upper middle class smirk, and how much of it he can get away with, and he gets away with all of it: it doesn’t matter anymore. Replaced not just by a terrifying political culture that unites people not through class, but through convictions
While losing none of his legacy, Ezra performed with a relentless rock transcendence of both tightness and looseness, a Vampire Weekend who could become Phish if they so choose. I read nj.com’s Bobby Olivier’s something of a pan of the same show (here) and he did get one thing right. If you are going to bring out The Internet’s Steve Lacy, whom Ezra called part of the family, to perform with the band for the first time ever, hand him a fucking guitar. There are other ways the band could be better, they should flip the “requests” section, to the middle and move the “Diane Young” section to the encore. But beyond that, it was a remarkable set. Ezra wanted to do something special and he did, and then the audience did something special as well, throwing the wristlets as they glowed blue and red, when the the band returned for the encore. It was a beautiful spectacle, and a real tribute that Ezra and co missed, or perhaps didn’t quite get, it was as if the audience took the evening into their own hands. A magical tribute to a band who surely deserved it.
It was good to have the Glen Ridge boy back home, if they are the Vampires of any city it is New York City.