When an artist plays a three-night stand at New York City’s illustrious Radio City Music Hall, chances are the act is something special.
The bright lights of Radio City theater on Sept. 15
Vampire Weekend—they share little in common with the “Twilight Series,” or any spin-offs—is a young four-piece rock band from New York doing the improbable: They are slated to play three consecutive nights, Sept. 15 – 17, at Radio City. All shows are sold out.
The men behind Vampire Weekend are all twenty somethings with a hipster image that doesn’t scare off regular suburban kids. Ezra Koenig, Chris Baio, Rostam Batmanglij, and Chris Tomson all met at Columbia University, and formed their band just before graduation. Since their 2006 inception, Vampire Weekend has plunged right into the mainstream music scene. They sound sophisticated, worldly and poppy, a cross between Peter Gabriel (who they reference in the song “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”) and Paul Simon via the “Graceland” album. Yet, their sound appeals to teenagers and professionals alike.
While their songs sound inspired by progressive rock and pop music predecessors, Vampire Weekend is not a copycat or revival band. They offer a unique sound and image. The band is flashy, smart and—most importantly—talented musicians and careful songwriters. They writes songs that only last as long as is necessary, with hits like “A-Punk” and “Cousins,” clocking in at around 2 minutes and 30 seconds and “Mansard Roof,” at around 2 minutes. Listeners don’t have to wait for a catchy chorus to sing-a-long or hum. Likewise, many Vampire Weekend songs begin, like a well-crafted narrative, in an action-filled moment.
If the sold out shows at Radio City Hall aren’t proof enough that the band is on its way to stardom, their sophomore album “Contra,” released in January 2010, debuted No. 1 on the Billboard 200. For a band of rockers who, only several years ago, worked day jobs, that is one impressive feat.
A similar sounding band from the late 70s and early 80s, The Police, featured a lead singer and bass player who also worked a day job before making it big in the music world. Sting—you might have heard of him before—was a school teacher in England before the Police hit the airwaves in 1977 with the single, “Roxanne.”
Vampire Weekend takes over the stage at Radio City.
One fan at the opening Sept. 15 show at Radio City, Angela, a recent college graduate from the Fashion Institute of Technology at Radio City, was overwhelmed after experiencing Vampire Weekend live.
“I don’t know. It’s just…my mind is a blur right now,” she said.
Her friend, Joe Hineman, a recent Rutgers graduate, said Vampire Weekend handled the Radio City venue really well.
“I think they did it justice, they know what it is all about,” Hineman said.
“Everyone was getting wild in there,” Angela said. “There was a lot of drinking and jumping around.” She also suggested that Vampire Weekend’s sound compliments the acoustics and allure of Radio City.
Hineman said the harpsichord sound in the song, “M 79,” advanced the vibe of Radio City, a famous and historic music space. The song is about a popular bus line in the city and evokes a particularly special meaning when played in New York that might otherwise be missed in other touring cities.
Fortunately, I had the chance to see Vampire Weekend twice on their current tour: once in New York and once in Chicago. What I witnessed at both concerts was a confident band hitting their stride: they control the stage without being annoying or cocky; they swagger without appearing stuck-up or stand-offish.
Koenig delivers his distinctive vocals at the Aragon.
In both cities, fans roared before, after and during nearly every song. The venue in Chicago, the Aragon Ballroom, was much more intimate. It is a general admission seating venue where the entire crowd stands. Radio City, on the other hand, offers ticket holders comfortable movie theater seats with stuffed cushioning. Simply put, Radio City is a classy place. And the Aragon Ballroom is no slouch either.
When Vampire Weekend opened the show with their catchy new single “Holiday,” about half of the crowd in Radio City immediately stood up to dance or stare at the performers in awe (in Chicago, the crowd was already on their feet). By the time the band rolled into what lead singer and guitarist Ezra Koenig calls “Part Two,” of the concert, playing a suite of college-themed songs “Oxford Comma” and “Campus,” at least three-quarters of the crowd in Radio City was on their feet. And once “Horchata,” a clever song about drinking a popular Mexican rice-based sweet drink, blasted from the speakers, nearly every person in Radio City stood and moved hips and limbs along with the music. It was the encore, and the crowd knew Vampire Weekend’s glass slipper would fall off soon. Even a security guard was spotted swaying his body in response to the catchy rock-dance grooves.
One fan spent the entire night dancing till his entire shirt was swamped in sweat. Michael Giodano, a 20-year-old Manhattan College student who majored in English until his parents persuaded him to switch to finance, said after the show he felt as if Vampire Weekend was playing a gig just for his friends and him. Still, he connected with the overall pulse of Radio City.
“I thought they rocked out in the perfect way,” Giodano said. “They changed the face of Radio City Music Hall. It is now Vampire Weekend’s Hall. Period.”
The crowd thanks the band after the Sept. 15 show.
As the Radio City Music Hall website puts it: “To step out on the Great Stage of the Music Hall is to know what it is to be a star.”
It was over 45 years ago when another four-man group took New York City by storm, performing multiple times for ecstatic fans. Ladies and gentlemen, “Vampire Weekend!”