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Review: Vampire Weekend owns the night at Stubb’s

Eric Webb
ewebb@statesman.com

Editor’s note: This article was originally published April 26, 2014

“I swear we made eye contact!” That, from the young woman standing next to me at Vampire Weekend’s Friday night show at Stubb’s.

The other half of that “we” is Ezra Koenig, the Ivy League heartbreaker/indie rock crown prince/latter-day Voltaire of Twitter who also entranced a jam-packed crowd on Red River Street the night before, along with his three partners in hitmaking.

Watching an audience watch Koenig feels like witnessing the beginnings of a cult. He is Bram Stoker’s Dracula in camo-print shorts and a fully buttoned polo, forever cocking his head to one side and raising his eyebrows with every culturally literate line, all in the service of hypnotizing a willing audience full of Lucys. He is a hybrid Rasputin-Mozart when he pinches his thumb and forefinger together, punctuating every beat with a conductor’s precision that he manages to make seductive, somehow.

“The second night is always better than the first,” Koenig intimated. “Industry secret.”

But the show, at times, felt expected. Though appearing in support of last year’s incredible “Modern Vampires of the City,” the band savvily selected known crowd-pleasers from across their three albums. If there’s a downside to sounding just as perfect live as on a record, it’s that there’s no surprise left. A lack of studio polish can go a long way toward electrifying a concert.

Luckily, Vampire Weekend required little additional juice. Whether a mannered, technically executed “Unbelievers,” a “Holiday” as crisp as a mortar board, or a measured “I Stand Corrected,” the legion of fans threw their hearts into the perpetual singalong. Those who go to a Vampire Weekend show, it appears, go to experience exactly the kind of buttoned-up New England cool that Koenig and Co. have distilled to science. It’s hard to fault them perfection: The band’s sonic maestro, Rostam Batmanglij, got those compositions right the first time, and if Koenig can perform the rapid-fire rap of “Finger Back” without tripping up, then allons-y.

The bounce of upbeat tunes like “A-Punk” delighted, but the softer songs cracked the facade to reveal little special moments. A rousing “Horchata” ended with a clattering strobe-lit breakdown before transitioning seamlessly into a tenderhearted “Everlasting Arms,” a standout track on last year’s album. Koenig sang “Looked up full of fear, trapped beneath a chandelier that’s going down,” mournfully tracing the lyrical chandelier’s descent with his Mozart-fingers. Later in the set, a moving and affecting “Obvious Bicycle” showed how much the band has matured since the days of “Oxford Comma.”

“You may not know that we debuted some of the songs from (“Modern Vampires of the City”) on this very stage,” Koenig told the audience before the encore. “It’s nice coming back to Austin.”

At the end of the show, the same young woman mentioned at the beginning of this review screamed “I love you, Ezra!” will throat-shredding force. Immediately after, in solemn confidence to her friends: ‘“I’ve been keeping that in all night.”

Vampire Weekend played the music of the night with an undeniable romance — and Koenig made Austin feel like his best girl.

Also at Stubb’s on Friday: Wild Cub

Nashville, Tenn.-based sythpoppers Wild Cub gave Stubb’s a killer opening for Vampire Weekend. Sporting matching high-and-tight haircuts, the band worked it out and served up sweaty, shimmery realness for a noticeably youthful crowd. Singer Keegan DeWitt was all chest-thumps and snare-pounds as he led the band through songs like the radio-ready “Thunder Clatter.” Occasionally recalling Friendly Fires or Gold Fields, there was a relentlessness to the band’s performance that was irresistable. American-Statesman music writer Peter Blackstock caught some of Wild Cub’s in-store performance at Waterloo records Friday afternoon, reporting that good sounds were on tap for a decent-but-not-huge crowd. The acoustic format, he predicted, would probably be an interesting contrast to their plugged-in sound. Whatever the venue, Wild Cub has the chops to thrive if they keep making stirring, dramatic alt-rock like they did Friday night.