On Tuesday night, Vampire Weekend celebrated the release of its new album, Contra, with a sold-out concert at Hollywood’s Henry Fonda Theater. The tour opener, billed as an “intimate” performance — at a 1300-capacity venue — actually capped a series of secret and small-crowd California gigs thrown by the New York band, who spent a portion of 2009 renting a house in the Hollywood Hills.
The headliner’s breezy rhythms and syncopated beats played well following a sweltering set by L.A.’s own Very Be Careful, a five-piece specializing in vallenato — folk music from Columbia’s Caribbean coast. Sharp-dressed men with nicknames like “Brickems,” “Peabody,” and “The Rip,” VBC used the tools of its trade –accordion, upright bass, various percussive elements — to loosen hips and expand minds.
Vampire Weekend took the stage to DJ Kool’s “Let Me Clear My Throat,” pogoing and hyping the crowd in front of a massive backdrop of Contra‘s grinning preppy-adorned album cover. A confident opening salvo of upbeat numbers — the Paul Simon-namechecking “White Sky,” bubbly “Holiday,” and 2008 hit “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” — set the tone.
Out in front of a clinically tight band,singer-guitarist Ezra Koenig’s buttery, unlabored vocals made it easy for the SoCal crowd to nod along when he sang, “Half of me is the gasoline, but the other half’s the surf.” The old theater’s wooden floor bowed and bucked beneath happy feet, while onstage, the boys of Vampire Weekend barely broke a sweat.
Much of the band’s eponymous 2008 debut was given new life, with “M79” showcasing the fast finger-work of keyboardist Rostam Batmanglij and “Oxford Comma” inspiring a fevered sing-along. The subdued cool of “I Stand Corrected” offered a moment’s respite from the persistent “groove — a welcome chilled out intermission later mimicked by the pretty quietude of new song “Taxi Cab.”
The Contra songs were the most exciting though, demonstrating Vampire Weekend’s equal proclivity for indulging eccentricities and crafting instantly catchy tunes. The AutoTuned vocal jabber and pirouetting guitar figures of “California English” seemed kaleidoscopic contrasted against the barreling ska-punk of “Cousins,” which in turn ceded to the bright, mariachi-flavored “Run.”
The only flub of the night came at the beginning of “Diplomat’s Son,” when the band failed to sync up with the unmistakable M.I.A. sample that lends that track its punchy rhythm. Koenig interrupted the first attempt to apologize: “It wasn’t right. Like I told you, [it’s our] first time. Mind if we try again? We’re all friends here, right?” A hearty round of applause revealed the answer.
Throughout it all, Koenig was the perfect frontman — his hair only slightly tousled by set’s end, and those expressive eyes dancing out their own coded cues for the audience to interpret.The encore brought a synth-heavy take on current single “Horchata,” as well as summery signature track “Mansard Roof,” before the band closed with “the traditional Vampire Weekend song of farewell,” “Walcott.”
“Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”
“I Stand Corrected”
“One (Blake’s Got A New Face)”
“Giving Up The Gun”