VAMPIRE WEEKEND at the Sony Centre, Thursday, May 16. Rating: NNN
Vampire Weekend's recent live-on-YouTube Steve Buscemi-directed record release party at New York's Roseland Ballroom attracted the likes of Zach Galifianakas and Jude Law. The Toronto version's celebrities were more modest - the Toronto Maple Leafs' Joffrey Lupul and Mike Kostka, forgoing traditional early-playoff-exit golf vacation for buttoned-up indie rock - but the band's graduation to the stately Sony Centre is a good indication of the peak they've reached with their new album, Modern Vampires Of The City.
The Brooklyn-based band has been divisive ever since they emerged in 2007, putting off a number of critics with their wholesome Columbia-kids-discover-African-music-via-Paul-Simon shtick, but many pundits have positively re-evaluated them after Modern Vampires, impressed by their newfound instrumental complexity and thematic weight. Their music now references rockabilly, dub reggae and hip hop as much as Graceland; their lyrics replace freshman literature survey allusions with sophomore seminar existentialism.
Beneath all the preppy posturing and smirking wordplay, Vampire Weekend are a legitimately great pop band. Singing about Oxford commas, atheism or the crushing inevitability of aging is always wrapped in a catchy, compulsively hummable hook. Any worry they'd abandoned that with Modern Vampires' heftier composition was diminished in concert.
Sure, bassist Chris Baio had to do a lot more heavy lifting, triggering samples while playing and dancing enough for the four of them (his button-down shirt was soaked in sweat by the end of the show) and singer Ezra Koenig sometimes modulated his voice beyond recognition, but new tunes like Diane Young and Ya Hey elicited just as spirited singalongs from the all-ages crowd as early standouts like A-Punk and Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa. And despite the flora-print set dressing, Roman columns and strobe lights, the airy melodies were still the flashiest element of their performance.