Sunday, September 8, 2019

Vampire Weekend Played Madison Square Garden with Angélique Kidjo and Despot, 9/6/19

Ezra Koenig dressed for Vampire Weekend's MSG show.

Modern Vampires of the City

I've been a big fan of Vampire Weekend since their 2008, self-titled debut. Their twee-ish, intelligent pop and sense of humor sit right in my wheelhouse. With the release of this year's Father of the Bride, the band embarked on a new direction -- understandable, following the departure of founding member, composer, and multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij. Vampire Weekend became fully Ezra Koenig's band, and he took them down roads they hadn't explored before, like 70s AM Radio country rock, jammy interludes, and lyrically direct songwriting. To me anyway, the result is Vampire Weekend's fourth straight classic record; and I was looking forward to the opportunity to finally, after a decade of fandom, catch them live.

The bonus here was that, a few years ago, I loaded CoolDaughter 1's iPod Touch up with the first three Vampire Weekend albums; and she grew into sort of a super fan herself. The plan for this show was for her and CoolMom to accompany me. I went through Ticketmaster's "Verified Fan" process and got us general admission floor spots for Madison Square Garden. As the day got closer, my initial excitement started to turn to stress as I thought about the very distinct possibility that we'd get stuck standing at the rear of the floor, unable to see, and with no seats.

[Note: I toyed with the idea of requesting photo credentials for the show; but I figured, rather than work and be separated from my wife and daughter, I'd just hang with them and enjoy the show. I'd love the opportunity to shoot Vampire Weekend one day; but, this time, I just settled for some shots from the crowd with the Sony RX100 mark IV.]

I picked CD1 up from her second day of school, and we drove straight to the train with plans for a 4:30 arrival into the city. I cajoled CoolMom into leaving work early to meet us, and she obliged. Other than some people who had managed to figure out that you could show up earlier in the day to secure a wristband guaranteeing your place in line, we were some of the first GA ticket holders to arrive. The amazingly polite and friendly MSG security team seated us, in order, in the Hulu Theater, so we wouldn't have to wait in the rain, and marched us into the venue at about 5:30. By the time all of this was said and done, CoolMom, CD1, and I were just one row of people off the barricade at frigging Madison Square Garden. It reminded me of the Bruce Springsteen concert CD1 and I attended back in 2012. We were in for a long night. Despot, the opener, was set to hit at 6:30; and Vampire Weekend have been playing 2+ hour sets for the whole tour. I chose to ignore the pain I was already feeling in my nearly-fifty-year-old feet and ankles, and I decided not to think about how much worse it would be by the end of the night.

Queens rapper Despot kicked of the show backed by DJ / producer E.Vax and a sextet of inflatable tube-person dancers. Despot was one of the original hosts of Ezra Koenig's Beats 1 Radio Show, Time Crisis. He's also been part of the NYC hip hop scene since the 'aughties. He reminded the crowd that he never, ever releases music; and, so, what we got was the rare opportunity to hear any of his stuff. He closed with his one and only officially released single, "House of Bricks;" and a few in the crowd around us rapped along.


Next up was Angélique Kidjo. Born in Benin, Kidjo is an international star who bridges African, Latin, R&B, funk, and jazz through her work. Her set featured all of that including a cover of Talking Heads' "Once in a Lifetime" and a march through a singing MSG crowd during "Afrika." When Kidjo announced her final song of the evening, there were screams for more.

Angélique Kidjo
Angélique Kidjo

Vampire Weekend hit at about 8:35 and launched into what may have been their longest-ever single set in front of their largest-ever crowd. They opened with "Bambina" from Father of the Bride and then set off on a set that included almost everything I could have asked for like "White Sky," "M79," "Step," "Diplomat's Son (with a little "Pressure Drop" interlude)," "Hannah Hunt," and audience requests "Ottoman," "Obvious Bicycle (+ a little "Son of a Preacher Man")," and "Run." I would've liked to have heard "Giving up the Gun," but that's just being greedy. CoolDaughter 1 enthusiastically bopped and sang along with all of her favorites and handed me her phone so that I could shoot a snippet of "Step" over the heads of the people in front of us for her.

Vampire Weekend
Vampire Weekend
Vampire Weekend

Songs like "2021" and "Big Blue" got jammy, extended treatments with guitarist Brian Robert Jones displaying some amazing virtuosity. Multi-instrumentalist Greta Morgan took center stage to perform Danielle Haim's vocal part on "Hold You Now," while Ezra played to the crowd in the rear. Bassist Chris Baio, in his NY Rangers t-shirt, bopped as enthusiastically as always; and drummer Chris "CT" Tomson was a force on the drum set. The band also employed a second drummer / percussionist and a few sets of keys.

Vampire Weekend
Vampire Weekend

All of the people in the seats, as well as most of the people on the floor (not us for some reason), received wristbands that automagically glowed different colors during different parts of the show (blue during "Big Blue," red for the lyric "The Lobster's Claw is sharp as knives..." during "Walcott"). It made for a pretty striking sight when you scanned the sold-out arena.

In a first, Steve Lacy joined Vampire Weekend on stage. They joined forces for a cover of Lacy's own "Dark Red" followed by an extended and hard rocking version of "Sunflower." Angélique Kidjo came back out to help with set-closer "Jerusalem, New York, Berlin."

Those requests I mentioned were part of the encore. That encore also featured a huge confetti blast along with giant bouncing, inflatable globes that skipped along the crowd during "Walcott."

Vampire Weekend ft. fan who requested "Ottoman" (in IKEA bucket hat)

The set lasted somewhere around 2 hours and 50 minutes. I was in pain from standing for 6 or so hours. So were CoolMom and CD1. But it was one of the best live show experiences I've had in a long time, made super-special by having (most of) the coolfamily along with me. As we walked towards the exits, CD1 leaned on me and said, "You're the coolest dad ever." I gave myself the CoolDad moniker as kind of a self-deprecating joke when I started this thing, but I feel like she may have really meant it; and it felt great.

The rest of the snapshots are up in the Flickr gallery.

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