Live review: Vampire Weekend

Hippodrome, Kingston Thursday, January 14

Andy Willsher
Pic: Andy Willsher
Just shows you, if you put in the elbow grease, you come up shining. Within days of completing the hectic promotional schedule in which this gig is nestled, Vampire Weekend will become, much to the joy of XL Recordings, the first artist signed to a UK independent label to top the US album chart in almost 20 years. Sorry, Paula Abdul, but you’re going to have to let that crown drop from your claws. In the meantime, though, they’re still smack-bang in the middle of campaign ‘Contra’, and it’s about their chops, not their charm. Mega-fans – 1,100 of ’em – are funnelled towards the stage an hour before the band even enter the building. Ezra Koenig’s eyes are sunken from jet lag, but snap open as a wave of beer splashes across his face while playing opener ‘White Sky’. Thick-necked bouncers slink into the throng and strong-arm out crowdsurfers to wide-eyed protests – kids panicking about the prospect of being booted out into the freeze one song in. Those that remain bellow the screechy “[i[Aye-a[/i]!”s that comprise the song’s squeakily odd chorus. It’s another demonstration from the band – who made the phrase “Blake’s got a new face” the unlikeliest singalong of 2008 – of their sizzling ability to turn weird noises, yelps and phrases into mini-anthems in themselves. Practically every squeak and whoop tonight is sung on a euphoric level – showing that while ‘Contra’’s melodies may be taking a while to unfurl on record, live they take a much more direct route to the heart. ‘Holiday’ is greeted with a similar devotion, and the home run is secured by the time the tooty shifts of ‘Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa’ chime in.

From there, the energy only rises further – new single ‘Cousins’ is a tap-in in front of such rabid fans, while Vocoder-steeped ‘Contra’ cut ‘California English’, which sounds a bit silly on record, all tongue-flick vocals and an unsatisfying stop-start pacing, sounds silly and fun bolstered by 1,100 devotees tongue-flicking along. It’s live performances and songs like these that mean those chart entries will likely soon translate into more gleaming gold and platinum for the trophy cabinet. Backstage, Ezra cheerily dismisses his beery shower as “part of the fun”. Indeed it was – no matter if they’d gone in at Number 86 with a lead balloon, Vampire Weekend were still off the charts tonight.

Jamie Fullerton

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