Joey Grihalva
Review

Vampire Weekend Draws Blood

Alt rock group wows the crowd despite chilly weather, as our photos show.

By - Jun 5th, 2014 02:59 pm
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A vintage Massachusetts sailboat adorned with gold African trim carried Ezra Koenig and his elite East Coast band of musicians, better known as Vampire Weekend, to the shores of Lake Michigan last night. (At least that’s how I picture they travel.) Their packed BMO Harris Pavilion performance at the Summerfest grounds was a preview of the upcoming 47th installment of the Big Gig. In World Cup terms, this show was a friendly send-off game if you will. An anxious faction of concert-goers wouldn’t let the low 50s temperature keep their t-shirts and dresses from flowing in the breeze. Koening mentioned the cold a couple times, offering sing-alongs and upbeat tunes to keep us warm.

“We’ve been coming here for a few years, but this is far and away the best Milwaukee show we’ve ever played,” Koening announced before their final song.

I (barely) remember the Vampire-like Weekend I spent at Columbia University back in 2006. I was visiting a high school friend who lived in the same building as Koening and company. The band had just started up and was still playing small clubs in New York City, which is when Brian Oblivion of CULTS first caught the group live. CULTS opened last night’s show, and Oblivion talked about that first encounter with Vampire Weekend back in New York. Meanwhile, the sun was setting in Milwaukee and I found myself gazing at seagulls soaring in front of the vanilla skyline while CULTS did their thing.

White columns dangled from the roof, centered by a fancy mirror/screen and backed by flowery wallpaper. Smoke puffed in from the sides and a bass-heavy hip-hop track blared as the mighty Ivy League alt-rockers from Vampire Weekend took the stage. Like the chorus in their opening number, “Diane Young,” they were “Baby, baby, baby, baby, right on time.” From there on out the young indie icons never let up during their 19-song set, which heavily featured 2013’s Modern Vampires of the City, but balanced material from all three of their albums.

Originally scheduled at the Riverside Theatre, the concert was upgraded to the Pavilion due to popular demand and then billed as “Milwaukee’s 1st Major Outdoor Show of the Year.” Indeed it was popular and major, considering both the super fans in glow sticks geeking out behind me and the energy of the audience in general. Lots of enthusiasm was aimed at bassist Chris Baio, whose patented leg-kick strut and booty-shaking got the girls going wild. (Not like Mötley Crüe wild, more like Ferris Bueller wild.) During “Holiday,” Baio busted out a new maneuver where his knees came together and then butterflied out.

Keys man and guitarist Rostam Batmanglij had us rehearse backing vocals for “Horchata,” which he layered with a trippy keyboard solo while drummer Chris Tomson added an electronic clap on top of our scattered syncopated clapping. It was the highlight of the night up to that point. Another came when Tomson let loose on the drums during the fast-paced “Cousins,” but it didn’t match the crowd shouting “Ay! Ay! Ay!” back at Koening to close out “A-Punk.”

While they played “Oxford Comma” and “Giving Up the Gun” back-to-back I discovered an increasingly common malady a few rows up. I’m referring to the drunk person haphazardly shooting low-quality concert video on their smartphone while looking at and singing to their friend, dancing all the while. This species is responsible for many cracked screens, wasted memory space and broken phones. We really need to find a cure before the contagion spreads.

Vampire Weekend wrapped up their official set (set list) with “Obvious Bicycle,” a slow number that prompted a tender moment as couples and close friends swayed arm-in-arm. After a short, two-minute intermission the quartet was back for an encore, first with “a song about a girl from San Francisco” (“Hannah Hunt”), which ended on a raw and wonderful guitar solo by Batmanglij. The farewell song was fitting, “Walcott,” a plea for a friend to flee Cape Cod. A few cool parents brought their kids, but I did notice one family heading for the exit before Koening dropped the F-bombs in “Walcott.” Maybe they were just tired, like many of us were after dusting off the Big Gig’s digs, which are more than ready for the summer to come.

Set List:

1. Diane Young
2. White Sky
3. Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa
4. Unbelievers
5. Holiday
6. Step
7. Finger Back
8. Horchata
9. Everlasting Arms
10. Cousins
11. California English
12. A-Punk
13. Ya Hey
14. Campus
15. Oxford Comma
16. Giving Up the Gun
17. Obvious Bicycle

Encore:

18. Hannah Hunt
19. Walcott

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