White Oak Music Hall
August 17, 2019
A lot has changed for Vampire Weekend in the past six years.
In 2013, the band was riding high on a wave of success following the release of its critically-acclaimed third album, Modern Vampires of the City, which showcased a more experimental, moodier side of the Ivy League indie rockers. But shortly after its release, news surfaced that one of the group’s founding members, Rostam Batmanglij, had left to focus other projects.
Rostam’s departure could have been the end of Vampire Weekend. He produced the band’s first three records, after all, never mind the countless instrumentations he performed or the music he wrote. Had the group disbanded then and there, fans would have agreed that it had been a good run.
Instead, vocalist Ezra Koenig, bassist Chris Baio and percussionist Chris Tomson decided to keep Vampire Weekend going. And earlier this year, they released their fourth studio album, Father of the Bride, an emphatically upbeat sounding record that was widely praised, albeit less so than its predecessors.
Despite Rostam’s absence and critics’ comparatively tepid response to the new material, Houston fans showed up in droves to hear the New York indie darlings perform at White Oak Music Hall on Saturday night, their first concert in Houston in years.
The evening began with a performance of “Flower Moon,” a cut from FOTB that was politely received by the crowd. But then Vampire Weekend began playing “Believers,” the second track from Modern Vampires, and fans roared their approval as they began to dance.
Brian Robert Jones, Chris Tomson and Ezra Koenig
Photo by Robyn Tuazon
Fewer than half of the tracks performed Saturday night came from Vampire Weekend’s latest album, and four of them were performed in succession mid-set. “My Mistake,” “Stranger,” “This Life” and “Harmony Hall” represented some of the strongest tracks from FOTB, and one of them even shed light on the plight of immigrants seeking asylum being turned away from the U.S. border.
Out of all the new tunes, the most captivating was “Harmony Hall,” which – perhaps unsurprisingly – was the only track on Vampire Weekend’s new album produced by Rostam.
But for all the new material, it was the older cuts that really struck a chord with fans. The crowd’s energy was palpable during the likes of “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” “A-Punk,” “Giving Up The Gun” and “Ottoman” – which the band performed at the request of a fan in a yellow shirt and a bucket hat that caught Koenig’s eye.
Countless Phish- and Grateful Dead-style jam sessions were peppered into the set, advertising guitarist Brian Robert Jones’ talents and shedding light on the recent addition who was brought into the fold after Rostam’s exit. Gigantic beach balls depicting the globe were tossed into the crowd during the encore and, near the end of the set, Koenig channeled Peter Frampton through a vocoder.
Vampire Weekend has always boasted a unique sound, combining indie-rock with elements of world music and self-described impressionistic lyricism. The inability of any other band to duplicate this format and succeed in their absence speaks volumes to the band’s singularity, never mind the 5,000-something fans at White Oak Music Hall Saturday night.
So yes, much has changed for the Ivy League rockers, but not so much that their music doesn’t still sound fresh and accessible, even if it isn’t quite as exciting and groundbreaking as it was between 2008 and 2013.
Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa
Giving Up The Gun
I’m Goin Down (Bruce Springsteen cover)
Jerusalem, New York, Berling
Matt is a regular contributor to the Houston Press’ music section. He graduated from the University of Houston with a degree in print journalism and global business.
Matt first began writing for the Press as an intern, having accidentally sent his resume to the publication’s music editor instead of the news chief. After half a decade of attending concerts and interviewing musicians, he has credited this fortuitous mistake to divine intervention.