Saturday, March 29, 2008

Vampire Weekend, YACHT, Richards on Richards, Vancouver, March 27

To say I was excited about the show tonight would be an understatement. Firstly, I'm a big YACHT fan, not so much because of his music (which is admittedly fun), but because of his positivity, energy and enthusiasm. It's almost like he's the Andrew WK of indiepop dance music (and you could totally imagine him stopping halfway through to tell the crowd that they're each awesome individuals, and that they can do anything they want, just like AWK. Incidentally, should you ever get the chance to see one of Andrew WK's motivational lectures, you should. They're awesome (and he uses that particular adjective about 10,000 times in an hour).

And I was curious about Vampire Weekend. If you own a computer, you've probably been able to chart the 3 month long narrative arc from obscure college band, through critically blog-acclaimed next-big-thing, to the inevitable backlash (made worse by the fact that they're good-looking, educated, upper west-side-living young men). All that notwithstanding, they've got a batch of crackingly interesting songs, but I'm always curious to see how newer bands that might not have too much experience playing lots of big live shows adapt to the shift in paradigm.

The show sold out tonight, and I was surprised at how quickly it did - when it was announced Vampire Weekend still hadn't released a record, but still tickets vanished within about 3 weeks - for notoriously apathetic Vancouver that's pretty quick - and I was wondering what sort of folk were going along. More on that later.

I also took my camera, so this post may be a little more visual than usual. I'm remarkably lazy when it comes to taking things with me when I go out - I hate having to carry things all night, so I'd rather freeze my ass off and walk to a show in the snow in a t-shirt than carry a jacket, and a camera is nearly always a bridge too far. I also take photos in a weird way - if I hold the button down on my camera it takes a photo every second, so I end up coming home with about about 400 photos, which if you view them fast enough represent a kind of stop motion account of the entire evening (although without sound), but mostly end up being out of frame, blurry, and too dark. Sometimes, I can pass them off as being intentionally arty (example below) but normally they just suck, like the one that leads this post.

Richards was starting to fill up as YACHT came on - I last saw Jona supporting Architecture in Helsinki last summer, and since then he's added his girlfriend to the live show - she sings and dances just as maniacally as he does.

The central premise of a YACHT show is that his songs are all lined up on his macbook - he hits play, and then sings and dances his way through them.

Luckily the kid can dance, which makes the whole escapade a lot more exciting. Having said that, he's got three moves that he relies a little too heavily on:
a) sweeping his fringe dramatically from over his eyes (sadly, not captured on film),

b) gesturing with the microphone in time with the melody, as if playing a giant, aerial xylophone,

and c) a big sliding side-step to the right, sometimes preceded by a jump, for added effect (captured mid-slide to the right.

Jona's partner, and collaborator, Claire, looked like she was having a ball up there, and there was a nice little moment where he asked the crowd to thank her, not just for being fun on stage, but also for being a great person. They also ran a neat little skit where Claire told the story of how she met Jona at a club, complete with an R&B slow jam as a backing track. 'twas genius. (incidentally, my favourite part of the photo at the right is that you can see just how close the people on the upper level are to the band - it literally hovers out over the back left part of the stage).

Sadly, there was no mid-set question and answer session like last time, but he made up for it by jumping in to the crowd and dancing right where I was standing -twice!(is it wrong to become excited by a dude in a flannel shirt rubbing himself against you) - and once they finished up I was left looking around the crowd a little bewildered, in a mild state of post-excitement shock.

But what I saw was a little alarming (and be warned, it's gonna be nothing but unadulterated rock snobbery from this point forward). While I hadn't been looking, the crowd (or at least a sizeable swathe of the crowd near the front) had metamorphasised into a collection of ball-cap wearing, beer swilling, frat boys, and the female equivalent thereof (whatever that is called). There was nary a cardigan, plaid shirt or a pair of black-framed spectacles in sight. Don't get me wrong, I like beer and ballcaps as much as the next guy, but these looked like the kind of people that don't understand irony. I'm betting that some of them even comment on youtube videos.

It appears that these were the individuals that bought all those tickets 3 months ago. I dunno whether they got a special bus organized to ship them in from the 'burbs, but they were here in force tonight, and intent on having a big night.

The excellent from blown speakers compared Vampire Weekend to The Strokes - and there are a bunch of parallels, from their appearance of privilege, their snappy trousers, and the rapidity of their rise to fame. But there's also similarities in their mixed fan base. When the first Strokes record came out, they were immediately embraced by hipsters everywhere (and this was before my earnest acceptance of the internet - I still remember huddling around the television watching them with my flatmates on UK Top Of The Pops, reading the air-freighted (not surface freighted) NME, and getting a friend who was in the UK on vacation to bring me back a copy of the Modern Age EP), but afterwards they seemed to attract an extended crowd, that bought the record en masse about 9 months later. Where that process took nearly a year back in 2001, it looks like the entire process takes about 6 weeks in 2008.

(Incidentally, while I'm ranting about the Strokes, whichever record company executive decided that this abomination (which is only made partially cooler by the fact that it appeals to the particle physicist in me) -
-is better than this wonderful, Spinal Tap-referencing piece of pop cultural genius. Smell the Glove (fast forward to 4.00) indeed.
But anyway, rant over. Oh, apart from the fact that taking New York City Cops off the american version is equally retarded.

The final parallel between Vampire Weekend and the Strokes, that is pertinent to getting me back on track with this post, is that their songs are fantastic. Vampire Weekend were tight as all hell, and it's easy to get distracted by the internet hype, but at their core, they have a set of fantastic pop songs, with unique elements that give them a sound that's instantly identifiable as theirs (I know a lot is made of the african influence on their record, often by the band themselves, but I don't see it so much).

They ambled out full of smiles and preppy goodness - the lead singer Ezra wore a fetching v-neck sweater, that he didn't remove, despite the fact that it got pretty hot, and others in the band were visibly sweating (maybe he is some sort of genetic freak, he didn't appear to have ever needed to shave, either). They kicked off with the lead track off the record, Mansard Roof, and followed that up with a run through of the majority of the rest of the record (a recorded output that barely stretches to ten songs doesn't make for a whole lot of selection when putting a setlist together). They did play one new song, that didn't really suggest any bold new direction, as it fit the VW-template quite nicely.

Righto, this is far too long, and most people will have long since given up, or just skipped to the photos, so I'm going to finish this up in bullet point format.

  • During their second or third song (Walcott, maybe?) I was shocked to hear the crowd heartily singing along with the chorus, with a gusto I imagine they normally reserve for "Living on a Prayer". When the band did try and get some organized call-and-response happening during "One", the crowd were way ahead of him, shouting back the correct response before he'd even told him what it was).
  • There were people moshing. Somehow it didn't seem appropriate, but then again I've always been a bigger fan of dancing than flinging myself at my over-testosteroned friends (actually, that's totally a lie, I love moshing. I just think there's a time and a place) and the band looked a little weirded out. Luckily I'd moved to the back to be among the other old people, but I know a couple of my friends were lodged further forward, and didn't enjoy it so much.
  • The band announced that the next song was a little bit slower, and within seconds, three lighters were held aloft, completely without irony. I was waiting for someone to yell out for Free Bird, but nobody did (admittedly, there was a point in my life where I thought yelling "Free Bird" at indie pop shows was pretty much the wittiest thing possible)

  • Ezra has a fairly unique guitar playing posture, he looks something like a hunch-backed rabbit, caught wide-eyed in the headlights. He also only seems to play the bottom three strings on his guitar, but something I only really realized live was that he uses his voice in fairly unique ways, such as in "Oxford Comma", where the end of each line in the chorus features an abrupt increase in pitch.
  • My friend informed me she had a crush on the bassist, which I didn't quite get. I mean, he's not classically attractive, and he was standing 3 feet to the left of a floppy-fringed cutie, but then Wikipedia tells me that he's Scott Baio's nephew, so maybe there's a little bit of Charles in Charge that shines through.
But for all my whining and elitism, it was a pretty fun show. I guess one good thing about going to a show where the majority of the audience doesn't go to many shows, is just that it seems to be a bigger deal for everyone involved, and there's a lot more enthusiasm in the room. The band seemed genuinely excited to be there, although they need to hold back on the banter that panders to the home crowd - I think if they'd mentioned that the beach was beautiful one more time, I was going to bottle them.

The band went off for the obligatory pre-encore break, but at least had the decency to keep it brief, and crack a joke about it when they got back (sorry guys, we just had to grab some magazines from out the back). The campaign for an end to encores starts here. The encore was actually pretty special - Vampire Weekend are coming back to the area for a corporate behemoth of a festival in July, which also features Tom Petty, Jay-Z and Coldplay, and Ezra spoke about this, before claiming that Tom Petty was a huge influence on the band (at least 3 people around me asked if he was being serious - he wasn't), before dropping into the opening riff of American Girl. The rest of the band looked dumbfounded - this clearly wasn't rehearsed, but after their frontman told them what was what, they manfully ploughed their way through a verse and a chorus before seguing into Oxford Comma to round up. It was a nice, playful way to finish a good night.

So, my conscience is probably not gonna allow me to make it up to Pemberton for that festival (actually my conscience is making me feel bad because the Flaming Lips are playing within 200 miles of my location, and I'm not planning to go), but luckily I get to see Vampire Weekend the weekend before in a little city called Chicago (maybe you've heard of it?) where they're sharing a bill with a rather attractive gentleman called Jarvis Cocker (apparently he used to be in some band from the UK).

And one more photo to finish, because I can.

No comments: