Vampire Weekend @ Bottle Tree Cafe 3/10/08

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Vampire Weekend does not make rock music the old fashioned way, opting to emulate African music rather than straight rip it off. The band describes their sound as “Upper West Side Soweto” and so far the Namibian community (from which the Soweto genre originates) has not demanded any royalties.

Vampire Weekend does not make rock music the old fashioned way, opting to emulate African music rather than straight rip it off. The band describes their sound as “Upper West Side Soweto” and so far the Namibian community (from which the Soweto genre originates) has not demanded any royalties.
Like in Paul Simon’s celebration of Mbaqanga: Graceland, Vampire Weekend invokes Afro-pop with absolutely no insinuation that the music runs through their blood. Influenced by MLA format and Columbia’s honor code, the band deftly circumvents plagiarism and ruminates over the peskiness of commas.

It is on this platform of veracity that allowed for the unstressed, sophisticated and fraternal cheer that beset Birmingham’s Bottle Tree on Monday night. Live, Vampire Weekend played loyal renditions of songs from their self-titled release but radiated with novelty from the foil of a unanimously energized audience. The group, known for preppy-chic fashion sense, grooved, strummed and head nodded to their numbers without any affectation, although one sartorial criticism is that it was too warm for the bassist’s cardigan.
Songs played included “Ladies of Cambridge” with upbeat, happy and tight organ matched with buoyant, evenly displaced bass, sounds like a good Mighty Mighty Boss Tones’ song. “Mansard Roof” bounces and croons into a climactic drum-roll punctuated by cymbal-crashes and accompanied by a meteor shower of island high-notes. Slower song “One” introduces brief guitar chops and snare jabs that are mellowed by a crystalline synthesizer echo, giving the song a reggae quality; eventually singer Koenig encouraged the audience to contribute to the refrain “Blaaake’s got a new face!” Also played, and recently enlivened by a music video (featuring the band acting like J. Crew marionettes) and a performance on The David Letterman Show, “APunk” is a descending zig-zag riff-affair between bass and guitar.

For about thirty bucks one could’ve bought a yellow knit hat or scarf emblazoned with either the band’s name or “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa.” Refreshing is that one would have to unabashedly adore the band to wear them (adult merchants should purchase at their own risk).

Vampire Weekend channel Afro-pop’s optimistic and harmonious side and mix it with a Kinks-flavored serving of Western rock and roll. Unlike Paul Simon, Vampire Weekend does not endeavor to exhume the prevalent sadness and dilemmas with which African music is laden. But then again youth and privilege seem to be their shtick.

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