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ACL Fest review: Vampire Weekend

Deborah Sengupta

Editor’s note: This article was originally published October 4, 2013

It’s been three years since Vampire Weekend played ACL Festival, scheduled in roughly the same sunset time slot that they played tonight. That set was a breezy affair with beach balls bouncing through a crowd thoroughly wooed by the band’s highly educated take on dance pop. In a set that mixed old favorites with tracks from their excellent 2013 release “Modern Vampires of the City,” they once again established themselves as the best end of summer dance band in the indie-verse, but this time with added layers of maturity and the hints of melacholy that necessarily accompany the transition from youth.

They kicked the set off with couple tracks from their first two albums, the supercharged blasts of “Cousins” and the rapid West African guitar cascades of “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” before dropping into “Diane Young,” the lead single of the new album and possibly the most upbeat song about premature mortality ever written. From there they delivered an excellent rendition of “Unbelievers” (possibly the most upbeat song about eternal damnation ever written), and a version of “Holiday” that found countless young ladies in sundresses dancing madly, barefoot in the shockingly green, beautifully well kept grass.

The free-spirited dance songs seemed to be crowd favorites, but some of the more intriguing moments were the quieter ones. When Ezra Koenig plaintively sang “Wisdom’s a gift, but you’d trade it for youth” in “Step,” the sincerity of his sentiment was palpable. Koenig and Rostam Batmanglij, the band’s other primary songwriter, are both 29 and many of the songs on the new album grapple with the same kind of big picture life issues many twenty-somethings face as they morph into thirty-somethings. This struggle with place and time is evident with tracks like “Ya Hey,” beautifully rendered at Zilker, but somewhat less ecstatically received.

At this point, however, the band members are seasoned veterans of the festival circuit, and they clearly understand how to temper the introspective wanderings with the fun stuff. Spirited versions of “A-Punk,” “Campus” and “Oxford Comma” all went over like gangbusters. The band closed out the set with “Walcott.” It was a solid ending to a set that was highly entertaining without being earth-shattering. The crowd cheered enthusiastically then they were off to the next set.