Vampire Weekend, Beach House Verizon Wireless Theater October 7, 2010
It's hard to quantify a show featuring two of the darlingest indie darlings the indie-darling machine has ever invented back-to-back in a non-festival setting. These events don't happen often, because parity in pop music is at an all-time high, and bands with even a nominal amount of success can often headline tours that help take them to the top of the Pitchfork conversation.
It has become commonplace for headliner types to reach out to the local acts of City X to open up before their grand entrance, which made Thursday night's Beach House/Vampire Weekend show both confusing and exhilarating.
Confusing because shouldn't a band with the musical chops of Beach House be, from now on, always the opened-for and not the opener? For more than a few years, a ticket to a Beach House show has been one of the harder ones to come by, and for good reason.
Lead vocalist Victoria Legrand is arguably one of the most compelling, and most important, voices in rock. Along with her almost singular ability to sing grand orchestras all by herself, she has reached a point in her career where her command of the pathos of performance is almost unmatched by her peers.
Legrand's confidence in her own mastery of the Brian Eno-like feel of her songs, set within the always-important context of what it means to be cool by feigning apathy inside of an obvious passion for a craft, was evident Thursday night. Beach House is the perfect amalgamation of what indie rock is supposed to be: Meaningful and beautiful, without forcing meaning and beauty on the listener (or viewer).
It seemed that, through the first three songs or so, the audience at Verizon was there to treat Beach House as they would any number of opening bands - as the background music to night-texting. But as the show went on, the momentum picked up and the realization that "Hey, this isn't really an opening band, bro; that girl can really sing" set in, and things finally started feeling right.
It's almost impossible to fully grasp how Beach House does what they do without seeing them perform up close. They take a decades-old, scholarly understanding of being definitively musical and couch it in a paradoxical air of minimalism, somehow making two guitars, an electric organ, a keyboard and some very muted drums sound like calculus. It's quite astounding.
We got, for the most part, a fair sampling of why Beach House's Teen Dream will go down as one of the best records of the decade: Songs like "Walk in the Park," "Norway," "Zebra," and the absolutely spellbinding "Silver Soul" and "Ten Mile Stereo" set this band apart from other male/female acts because of their ability to treat their art as art itself, and nothing more.
It was somewhat disappointing that more songs from Devotion weren't included in the set - though "Gila" almost made up for the omission - but circumstances are circumstances, we suppose.
And as if that wasn't enough, and it would have been, the headliners took the stage. Vampire Weekend is almost exactly like syllables - the more you use in a conversation with a college kid, the smarter you sound.
What makes them successful and in a way lyrically transcendent is in the way they sing songs about important stuff while remaining at heart, a formulaic pop band. What this all means in the long run isn't very much, we guess, but in the short run it might get you a date.
Here's the blueprint Vampire Weekend gave us all Thursday night:
- Start by talking about how war or other tragic inevitabilities often lead one to becoming a vapid activist ("Holiday").
- Jump to something about how, more often than not, rich white guys who wear striped sweaters are entitled assholes ("Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa").
- Next, turn the conversation in the direction of how living an organic and vegan-friendly family-farm lifestyle while still paying on your Walmart credit card every month is somehow OK in America ("California English").
- Pretend to be interested in everything he/she says, especially the bits about art, all the while knowing you're interested in nothing ("Cousins").
- When you reach the climax of your conversation, bring it a down a little and talk about the tragedy of cancer in young men and how that tragedy drives those young men's parents to try and find the meaning of life in the fantastical life that is New Mexico ("A-Punk").
- Right before you make your move, say something about how unfortunate it is that American class warfare makes having mature relationships among the educated masses almost impossible because irony is what saturates us ("Diplomat's Son").
- Finally, bring up how autumn reminds you that really, seasons are merely intellectual constructs that make people buy shit from the "seasonal" aisle at the grocery store. But if I want to drink out of a coconut on Christmas, am I crazy? ("Horchata")
After you do all of this, throw a bucketload of confetti in the air and dance like joy dances. This is what Vampire Weekend is, and what everyone celebrated Thursday night. They are our generation's Talking Heads, a supremely intellectual band that sounds perfectly at home on Top 40 radio.
They also seem to be, well, normal - four guys who wear clothes from the Gap and who don't seem to care that they aren't wearing complicated shoes. Vampire Weekend is a rock band without rock stars, and that's a relief to a large number of people. They are relatable, and that was very clear Thursday.
Lead singer Ezra Koenig looked at us, pointed at us, led us in a hootenanny during "One" and seemed to even care about us and about our town. This is clearly what the audience wanted, and one of the things that seems to make Vampire Weekend unique.
They didn't bring an elaborate stage setup, and they didn't wow us with overly complicated instrumentation; but they did allow us all to be happy for a couple of hours, and isn't that what we asked for?
The audience at Verizon was transfixed - giddy, even - during the time between each song, wondering aloud what would come next. Things like "Do you think they'll sing 'White Sky' here?" (they did); "I bet 'Oxford Comma' is gonna rullle" (it did); "Is there anything better than screaming 'Fuck' during a song ['Walcott']?" (there isn't); or "Do they really have the balls to cover Springsteen?" (yep, "I'm Going Down").
It made us realize that this is what music and what live shows are supposed to do - galvanize hundreds or thousands of people into one, making us forget that we're different just for a second, and helping us realize that when set to the right happiness, music can make us friends.
Personal Bias: Came in as softies for penny loafers; left feeling validated.
The Crowd: Millions of Kelly Kapowskis, billions of Zack Morrises, a couple of Screeches. Dancing. Wearing collars.
Overheard In the Crowd: "Dude? Hey, dude. Oh, hey dude. What's up, dude? Not much, dude; you? Eh, not much."
Random Notebook Dump: "Ezra's cherubic face and voluminous hair conjure disturbing images of Jonas."
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to the mission of the Houston Press. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Houston’s stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
VAMPIRE WEEKEND SET LIST
Holiday White Sky Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa I Stand Corrected M79 Bryn California English Cousins Taxi Cab Run A-Punk One I'm Going Down (Bruce Springsteen cover) Diplomat's Son Giving Up the Gun Campus Oxford Comma
Horchata Mansard Roof Walcott