This originally appeared here on the Ticket Files blog for the Eugene Register-Guard

Vampire Weekend showed up to a packed and sold-out Crystal Ballroom for 94.7 FM’s December to Remember concert series Thursday night in Portland. It was a perfect setting for the New York prepster-pop quartet. The chandeliers that hang from the ceiling oddly resemble the one featured on Vampire Weekend’s debut album cover, and the paintings on the walls are reminiscent of art history class.

They are all Columbia graduates. They wear fitted plaid shirts and sing about Cape Cod, Oxford commas, and girls named Bryn. You want to hate them, I know. But in reality, Vampire Weekend is disparaging their East Coast upbringing as much as they are paying it homage. Perhaps this explains the phenomenon that is nearly a thousand Pacific Northwest hippies and hipsters alike showing up to hear them play songs about people who “summer.” More likely it’s their unique high-energy brand of pop that stems from classical, African, and indie influences.


(Crystal Ballroom chandelier above)

(Album art for self-titled debut.)

Vampire Weekend kicked off the set with a new song from their upcoming January release, “Contra.” The constant Paul Simon comparisons were evident as soon as front man Ezra Koenig started plucking at his guitar and nodding his well-coiffed head. The crowd erupted with screams and dancing at the first notes of “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa.” Clean Afro-pop guitar punctuates the song and the whole crowd was with Koenig when he yelped, “Do you want to?/ Like you know I do/ Like you know I do ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh ooh.”

The overpowering bass that had muffled the first few songs was toned down by “M79,” a sing-along worthy highlight from their debut album that had everyone around me dancing fanatically. The lyrics “No excuse to be so callous/ Dress yourself in bleeding Madras/ Charm your way across the Khyber Pass” always put a smile on my face. While Koenig’s witty lyrics and clean-cut guitar work take center stage most of the time, Rostam Batmanglij’s keyboard is a grounding force and Chris Tomson is more professional percussionist than traditional drummer.

The band gave a preview of their new album with the debut single “Cousins” (see below), which I originally dismissed at first listen as a menial reworking of their old songs. Live, however, the thumping beat of the chorus and the lightning-speed guitar solos had me hooked. I will admit that the song was stuck in my head all day today and I foresee it climbing my personal iTunes chart well into the New Year.

After a questionable experiment with an auto-tuned microphone, the band got back to old favorites like “Bryn” and “One (Blake’s Got a New Face)” that had everyone singing the words. Koenig could work on his between-song banter and would do best to ditch phrases like “How’s everybody feeling?” He can leave in the love of Portland and Powell’s, though. That I don’t mind.

In a way this show took me right back to early 2008, when Vampire Weekend’s bright pop sound appeared on the stage and got overplayed by me and everyone else. Despite that unshakable timestamp, Vampire Weekend still sounds fresh and, according to just about every person in attendance, is darn fun to dance to. Most of the songs were not new to the audience, and maybe that’s why they enjoyed it so much. There is a reason that their debut album was one of the most buzzed about in recent memory, and it didn’t have anything to do with privileged backgrounds or college education.

The band reappeared for the encore with “Mansard Roof,” another fan-favorite and perhaps one of the better examples of their high-energy, polished appeal. New song “Horchata” still relies heavily on African influences, but is an intriguing step away from their debut. Even with the lyrics “In December, drinking Horchata,” the song has the makings of a beachy summer anthem. We will have to wait until January to see what “Contra” has to offer, but if “Cousins” and “Horchata” are any indication, it may be another year in the spotlight for Vampire Weekend.

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