Vampire Weekend Take Risks, Cover Tom Petty @ Joe’s Pub, NYC 5/6/09

Despite selling out in five minutes, and despite featuring Vampire Weekend playing Vampire Weekend songs, last night’s early show at Joe’s Pub was an atypical night with the band. They performed as the Music portion of the Happy Ending Music & Reading event, part of a series organized and hosted by Amanda Stern, bringing together Writers To Watch (they have hype in the literature world) and musical acts to trade off readings and songs. It was a funny mix of indie kids, wine-sipping book editors, and cat-calling literary groupies, and maybe not everyone knew Vampire Weekend before, but everyone definitely loved the shit out of “Oxford Comma.”

These days Vampire Weekend are holed up in the studio working on LP2, so the (business) casual vibe at Joe’s seemed to offer some welcome relief. No new songs were played, although old songs were played newly: All participating in the event had to “Take A Public Risk,” which Vampire Weekend accomplished via a number of firsts: the Chrisses traded instruments for the set (Baio on drums, Tomson on bass); “Walcott” was rearranged into a “roundup” version (a mildly jazzy/swinging halftime thing); Tomson offered the band’s double-bass debut; and “M79″ was performed four-piano-hands style, Rostam and Ezra sharing the grand piano.

Another requirement: the band had to cover a song and “get everyone to sing along.” They chose Tom Petty (like they do) because they’re smart. The song was “Walls,” which Ezra introduced by pointing to their friend in attendance Ed Burns (he waved) whose She’s The One soundtrack birthed it. Lyrics sheets were passed out, everybody sang, nobody caught Rostam’s intro piano tease of Arcade Fire’s “Tunnels.” (“Is this a rearrangement?” – Everybody.) Great song, great cover.

A word on the authors to help you understand Santiago Felipe’s photospread. I was told last night’s wordsmiths were a particularly beloved bunch: Wells Tower, who read a hilarious piece from his new short-stories collection Everything Ravaged, Everything Burned; John Wray, excerpting an intense passage from his acclaimed Lowboy, your average story about a schizophrenic teen riding NYC’s subways in search for a woman to fuck in order to save the world; and Arthur Phillps, whose The Song Is You inspired constant guffaws and is the most likely to wind up in your hands as a gift someday. (“It’s about music, and bands, and going to see bands.”) The readings themselves didn’t fit the Taking Risks theme — there is little risk involved in public speaking for writers that look like actors — so they performed tiny self-dares instead. Wells thought there was risk in bringing two things he loved that didn’t go together, together — chocolate chip cookies and bacon, obvs — which digressed into an anecdote about trying to fly to NYC with a huge ball of cookie dough that resembled C-4 embedded with semi-sweet chocolate morsels. Wray publicly debuted his back tattoo of NYT literary critic Michiko Kakutani (aka know your audience). Arthur Phillips announced his retirement from writing and intention to become a full-time bullfighter, changing outfits and olé-ing with a styrofoam bull mounted on a remote controlled car. Writers are weird.

Enough of The Vampire Weekend setlist:

01 “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”
02 “I Stand Corrected”
03 “M79″
04 “Oxford Comma”
05 “Walcott”
06 “Walls” (Tom Petty cover)^

^ w/ Rostam’s piano intro tease of Arcade Fire’s “Tunnels”

I somehow don’t suspect the bookish crowd brought their FlipCams to the show, but if somehow video were to pop of that Tom Petty cover, it would be a very good thing, and we would post it. In the meantime, check out Ezra’s hip hop track, and studio-mastered MP3s from Rostam’s supergroup with Ra Ra Riot’s Wes Miles, Discovery.