Vampire Weekend At Libbey Bowl In Ojai, Sunday June 17th 2018
I thought Vampires were exclusively nocturnal creatures but it seems that a certain brand of vampires had decided to make a diurnal apparition. The beloved New York band Vampire Weekend made a come back this weekend in Ojai, by playing their 2 first gigs after a 4-year absence, and the second show was happening on Sunday morning as a sort of Fathers’ Day brunch, during a misty rainy Ojai morning. As it was close to impossible to get a ticket for their Saturday night show, Sunday morning didn’t sound too bad after all, although it always feels a bit weird to attend a concert at 11am.
The Libbey Bowl is a cute and intimate place, located at 90 minutes from Los Angeles, and if it may have been a strange choice for the band to pick this rural venue for their come back, it turned out to be a great one for the happy fans who could see their favorite band close and personal. And it got quite personal with frontman Ezra Koenig often dialoguing with fans in the front rows, debating whether bonus track ‘Giant’ was on Spotify or not, and whether they knew ‘Ladies of Cambridge’… a B-side of ‘Mansard Roof’? These kids knew it all, I was surrounded by young people who certainly had graduated at the Vampire Weekend University, and for them, it wasn’t enough to know all the lyrics,… the young woman next to me, knew it all. And most of them had already attended the show the day before.
The Ojai location made much more sense a bit later when frontman Ezra Koenig explained that they were raising money (by selling shirts) for Upper Ojai Relief as the area has recently experienced one of the worst fires in California history. The band is also gonna match donations up to $10,000 for the 805 UndocuFund, “a collective effort among Ventura and Santa Barbara County-based grassroots organizations to assist local undocumented immigrant individuals and families who have been economically impacted by the Thomas Fire and the mudslides in its aftermath and are excluded from many relief programs such as FEMA assistance and Disaster Unemployment Assistance.”
An intelligent way to give a meaning to a come back, and when the show was over, there was not one shirt left at the merch booth.
Beside the good cause, the concert was a delight, a Sunday morning delight which started with the appropriate VU cover, ‘Sunday morning’, to continue with the moving Xmas-hymn-like ‘Obvious Bicycle’, with a ‘Listen ooo-ooo’ chorus sung by 1,000 fans at unison, but suddenly spiced up by Brian Robert Jones’s funky guitar…. He had apparently filled the shoes of Rostam Batmanglij, who left the band in 2016 to pursue a solo career, and this may have been the best way to give an end to the bad internet meme saying that Vampire Weekend is the ‘whitest band in the world’.
As many people, I felt in love with Vampire Weekend when they released their self-titled album in 2008 (it was its unofficial anniversary as Ezra said) followed by ‘Contra’ in 2010. It was easy to love them, the earworm choruses you want to shout-along, the witty and subtle lyrics, the cuteness and preciosity and the melancholic piano parts ending a song which could make a perfect soundtrack for a Wes Anderson movie… but mostly we like Vampire Weekend for their playful summery songs, such as ‘Holiday’ or ‘Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa’ , or ‘Cousins’, filled with African guitar loops and other globe-trotter-inspired pop, layered by a series of infectious percussions. If joyful music had ever a name, it would be one of these bouncy happy Vampire Weekend songs, that certainly filled the heart of all the people around me when the band played them.
Beside Ezra Koenig, and new guitarist Brian Robert Jones, the line up still included bassist Chris Baio and drummer Chris Thompson, but they were also joined by Greta Morgan (Springtime Carnivore) on keys vocals, and 3 other musicians on second keyboard and percussion, which gave full volumes to the music. The show was mostly a celebration of ‘old’ hits with a very joyful, speedy and jumpy ‘Cousins’ followed by the bouncy ‘Horchata’, the exuberant playfulness of ‘White Sky’, and then ‘A-Punk’, a song they played twice as a pretext to bring adorable dancing kids on stage… it was Fathers’ day and a family show.
Since it has been 4 years since Vampire Weekend’s last album, everyone had to expect new material which only came as a snippet of a new song called ‘Flower Moon’, played by Ezra on guitar, while he was explaining it was also featuring Steve Lacy. There were two special guests, Despot who rapped over ‘Step’ and actress and singer Amandla Stenberg, who played violin during the two songs of the encore, harmonizing with Ezra on ‘I Think Ur a Contra’… All set long, Vampire weekend delighted the crowd with their favorite songs, mixing them with obvious ones, like this George Harrison’s cover (‘Here Comes the Sun)’ strangely blending with ‘Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa’, and far less obvious ones, like Labi Siffre’s ‘I Got The’ sandwiching ‘Mansard Roof’.
It was certainly a highly anticipated return to the stage and the jumpy, speedy textures of their afro-inspired pop were intact, working their magic with hooky melodies, elegantly mixing a lighthearted tone with a real depth. This is pretty music with a deep heart, and beyond the old accusations of multiculturalism appropriation by privileged kids, Vampire Weekend have successfully continued to make infectious grooves and earworm melodies about American stories, while using African rhythms. And as I was looking at people on stage and at the very diverse crowd around me, the accusatory internet memes had vanished.
Sunday Morning (Velvet Underground) –> Obvious Bicycle –> Son of a Preacher Man (Dusty Springfield)
Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa
Here Comes the Sun (Beatles)
Ladies of Cambridge
Sister of Pearl (Baio)
(Extended) White Sky
Flower Moon (new song)
Step (Remix with Despot)
2 x A-Punk (2nd time with kids)
I Got The (Labi Siffre) –> Mansard Roof –> I Got The
I Think Ur a Contra (with Amandla Stenberg)