Poor Vampire Weekend. First everyone said they were the most amazing thing to happen to music since the hollow log. Then your mom bought the album, and everyone said they were overrated garbage. Well, ya’ know what? Your mom was right. I don’t care what it does to my H.Q. (hipster quotient), Vampire Weekend’s first album was an excellent record. Yeah, it was made by a bunch of rich (has that ever been confirmed?) Columbia University students who sing about things like going to college and hanging out on Cape Cod, and yeah, it’s heavily influenced by African music even though none of the members are from Africa, and yeah, they got inordinately successful in a short amount of time. But who really cares, when they do what they do so well? They are not trying to present themselves as anyone other than who they are. And as to the criticism about them appropriating African music, that’s just rock n’ roll. It’s no different to me than Led Zeppelin appropriating the blues or David Lee Roth appropriating being gay.
That having been said, when Eric initially called and told me that Vampire Weekend was playing a free surprise show in a tiny amphitheater in Boyle Heights, I didn’t immediately jump at the chance to go to it. I was getting tired from my Week of Many Shows and I was anticipating having to fight with crowds of people to get a spot. Until Sarah reminded me that we live in Los Angeles, and people don’t do things here. I mean, that’s not exactly true. People in LA do plenty of things. There are lots of things to do here and when I do things, I often see people there. But they don’t do things like rush out the door to hit a last-minute free concert, particularly if that concert starts on time. People in LA don’t like sudden movements. They like to make plans weeks in advance and then skip out on them.
With that in mind, we hopped in the Honda Civic and made the fifteen minute trek to Boyle Heights. I had never been to Boyle Heights. One of our friends wanted to move there for awhile, until she learned that it was infested with gangs. I guess there are a lot of gangs in LA, although I haven’t come across any of them. It’s probably because I refuse to leave the house without my clownin’ gear. Everyone knows gangs don’t mess with krumpers.
We got to the park as the band was setting up. Sarah’s theory was entirely correct; there were maybe 150 people there, scattered on the lawn in front of a tiny band shell that was probably mostly used by pigeons. On top of that, a good 25% of the crowd appeared to be composed of families who just happened to be sitting there watching the empty band shell anyway, unaware that there would be any entertainment. I would bet Vampire Weekend could sell out some of the bigger venues in Los Angeles, yet for some reason the fans stayed away in droves from the tiny, free show. Was it because everyone else in LA had also been told that Boyle Heights was infested with gangs? That wouldn’t happen in New York. In New York, Vampire Weekend could announce that they were playing a free show in 30 minutes in the sewer and you wouldn’t be able to find a spot. Hell, Timber Timbre could announce they were playing a free show in 30 minutes in the sewer and you wouldn’t be able to find a spot. Fucking New York.
The band took the stage to scattered applause. Right in front of the stage, there was a 15 by 20 foot patch of grass that was half-filled by the superfans. As soon as Vampire Weekend walked out, the fans shot up and crowded right up to the stage, leaving 80% of the plot empty. It was fun watching how uncomfortable people insisted on being, just to get that extra inch closer. If one of the fans had decided to step back a foot, he would’ve been treated to a much better view and a lot more room. But I shouldn’t make fun, because I was once a kid myself, and kids do funny things. When I was in high school I went to see Smashing Pumpkins, Pearl Jam, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers at the State Theater in Detroit … I believe it was still called Clubland at that point … and spent the entire show pressed up against the gargantuan speaker on the left side of the stage, just so I could say I was in the front row. And now I can hear dog whistles! 24 hours a day!
If I had ever doubted my loyalty to Vampire Weekend, this show made me a firm believer. First of all, they played every song off their debut album, and ended by saying, “that’s the end of the show, because we don’t know any other songs.” There’s nothing classier than self-deprecation. Second of all, they tossed in about 5 new songs, all of which sounded excellent. Third of all, they just seem like a nice bunch of young gentlemen. They joked around throughout the set, they encouraged sing-alongs, and they tried to appeal to everyone in the crowd, not just the hipsters. You know it’s a good show when even the Asian grandmothers who are strolling through the park with their two-year-old grandkids are dancing and smiling. Maybe the guys in the band are privileged, but sometimes privileged kids are the most fun at parties. I don’t want George W. Bush running my country, but I’d go out drinking with that motherfucker any day of the week. Actually, scratch that. I wouldn’t go drinking with that guy. It might turn heated. Prince Harry, I would drink with. As long as he promised not to wear the Nazi uniform.
The great thing about the new tunes was that they haven’t tried to go too far outside of the box. This isn’t their introspective hip-hop album; it’s just more of the same, great pop that we’ve come to know and love. From the songs I heard, I believe Vampire Weekend may have broken the curse of the sophomore slump. It makes sense … they say that bands have a lifetime to write their first album and 6 months to write their second. But Vampire Weekend became successful within 6 months of being formed. So maybe they’re operating at hyperspeed.
All in all, it was an excellent show for the Sunday afternoon near the end of My Week of Many Shows. I hadn’t planned on this one being a part of the series, but I couldn’t turn it down when it presented itself. To all those people who dissed Vampire Weekend because they didn’t want to watch another underground band go mainstream, I say: don’t hate. Congratulate! And next time you talk to your mom, tell her you love her. It’s the least you could do after all the trouble you’ve put her through with your Vampire Weekend player-hatin’ monkey ass.
Here are some videos so you can feel like you were part of the action:
Show length: 1 hour
Drinks consumed: 1 Coke
Rock points: Vampire Weekend – 9