Roseland Ballroom is up on 52nd St. in Manhattan, about 40 blocks higher than most indie rock bands ever venture. But in an amusing case of geographic razzmatazz, last night it hosted uptown’s most resplendent indie rock band, for whom 52nd St. was once a way-downtown destination. After Fred Armisen’s quick opening set as Thatcher-loving punk icon Ian Rubbish, the 114th St.-born Vampire Weekend delivered the latest salvo in their crazily consistent new millennial charm offensive: A triumphant set of the tricksy, exuberant, moving pop that is their apparent birthright, buttressed with winning new material and an American Express-enabled production budget purchasing floating Corinthian columns, a massive mirror/projection screen, and a heavy dose of lifechampion Steve Buscemi. It was a celebration. “Ya Hey” is the anthem.
Fans, friends, and fam attending the band’s landmark show were clearly on their own personal, prideful kwassa kwassas down memory lane — STARTED FROM THE IVYS NOW WE HERE, etc. — but my nostalgia tripping may have been the most clearly, temporally delineated:
In April of 2007, I received a blue CD-R and a handwritten letter from a group of Columbia students referring to themselves as VMPRWKND (vowels omitted for mid-aughts fun), which turned into this Band To Watch post; exactly six years to the month later, Vampire Weekend the movement had handily sold-out Roseland with a Buscemi-directed livestream beaming around the world, and I was texting with my own friends and fam, proud from their homes and apartments, letting me know how the webcast was going. (Answer: Very well.) Such was the vibe. Buscemi opened his webcast with the last installment of those adorable promo webisodes we’ve seen all month — this concluding bit featured someone who was maybe Steve’s dad, someone who was definitely Blondie’s Debbie Harry, and some random actors joining the band at a dinner table to give it the requisite quirk factor — and then a live bit backstage before the band hurtled into “Cousins” and night that will live on in YouTube’s livestream archives forever more.
When Vampire Weekend formed, the NYC rock landscape had a void up top, waiting to be filled by a band that captured something about the essence of NYC at the time. The city was without a clear torchbearer, a stylistic and spiritual avatar to project, and memorialize, something essential about NYC values and identity. Vampire Weekend came out the gates as precocious pop songwriters, but their intellect and ability was part of something a little more zeitgeistical, a little more fortuitous, a little out of even their control. Here was a multicultural crew brewing a polyglot stew, a band unafraid of arguments related to cultural appropriation, thereby synthesizing high/low and far-off worlds, in coincidental reflection of the iPhone generation. Their words were by turns incisive and painterly and punctuated with non-sequitur, presaging hashtag speak to the consternation of folks like, well, the webisode version of Steve Buscemi. (#PeterGabrielToo.) So it was the right band at the right time, yes, but the world doesn’t always get it right. We won this time. Good job, world.
You can watch last night’s show here, forever maybe. Buscemi made an appearance onstage, too, singing “A-Punk” and following it with a bit designed to introduce “Ya Hey.” (Repeat: It is the anthem.) If you want to see something approximating this live, the band just announced a headlining show at Brooklyn’s Barclay’s Center for 9/20, with tickets going on sale Saturday 5/4 at barclayscenter.com and ticketmaster.com. Or you can watch SNL on 5/4, when they’ll play music guest to Kristin Wiig’s show host.
Modern Vampires Of The City is out next month via XL, and based on what we’ve heard and the band’s general demeanor when they talk about it, it is going to be their best thing yet. Which is weird, considering. Mazel Tov, VMPRWKND.