For their Modern Vampires of the City record release show, Vampire Weekend settled on New York’s Roseland Ballroom, but worked with American Express and VEVO’s “Unstaged” series to broadcast the concert to as many potential record buyers, credit card swipers, and Skylar Grey video watchers as possible. The broadcast, in turn, would be directed by Steve Buscemi, the Trees Lounge auteur who would have a hand in everything from the lighting to the promotion. And the set list? “We’re going to meet up with him, swing by his house for breakfast on Sunday and see what he has to say,” frontman Ezra Koenig told MTV News.
Some ten hours after sharing bagels, the band took the stage, interrupting the gingham convention seemingly booked at the same location in order to play nearly two hours of Buscemi-approved tracks, mixing older hits with new songs that were received about as well as new songs are ever received. Playing what Koenig at one point referred to as their first New York show in years, the band opened with two cuts from Contra and one from Vampire Weekend before playing both sides of the “Diane Young” b/w “Step” 7-inch, the crowd familiar enough with even the B-side to return its softly sung chorus back to the band.
Where multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij wore all black and unassumingly switched between guitar and keys on stage right, Koenig occasionally danced in front of the microphone at front and center, his white oxford the brightest thing onstage, and lanky drummer Chris Tomson stayed energetic, his long arms folding over one another as he swung them around his kit. Of the three guitarists, bass player Chris Baio was undoubtedly the most animated, doubling as the leader of all audience clap-alongs. On “Worship You,” a new one that starts with Koenig on acoustic and — like “Diane Young” — culminates with Batmanglij hitting continuous eighth notes on his piano, he even tested the crowd with a little syncopation.
Two songs after “Worship You,” Buscemi strolled out for a brief cameo, and four songs later, the band closed the set proper with “Giving Up the Gun.” The encore brought them back for understated Modern City opener “Obvious Bicycle,” “Blake’s Got a New Face” (“This is back from the days when we played on 114th Street,” said Koenig, prefacing the song with the Kool and the Gang horn riff that begins Ma$e’s otherwise unrelated Harlem classic “Feel So Good”) and finally “Walcott” (“a song about leaving”).
Because of the venue size and the fact that such an album release concert would be taking place there regardless of what was happening on YouTube, you could barely tell a stream even existed — the “webcast” aspect had less of an impact on the performance than it does in similar efforts by companies like the Boiler Room. When lights were shown on the crowd, you sensed that it was probably because you were being watched (perhaps by the cameras that seemed to be hidden under the Corinthian columns floating above the stage) but beyond that, little was different. Still, it was hard not to feel auxiliary when after the band and crowd finally quit singing about leaving Cape Cod, the lights came on and a PA directed us to AmEx.com, where the show would go on.
Vampire Weekend set list:
“Cape Code Kwassa Kwassa”
“Giving Up the Gun”
“Blake’s Got a New Face”