If you ask a Charlottesville resident what one of their favorite things about this town is, they will most likely mention the absurdly wonderful amount of high-quality restaurants and bars, the interesting and welcoming community, or the preservation of and proximity to numerous historical sites. Or perhaps they would just skip to my favorite thing about Charlottesville: Its music scene. With a variety of venues to choose from, there always seem to be a great concert in town for every kind of music lover. This summer alone will yield concerts by Iron & Wine, Sara Bareilles, Martina McBride and Gavin DeGraw—just to name a few. Maybe it’s because Dave Matthews calls this town home, or maybe it’s simply because the best kinds of people seem to live here; either way, we get some pretty damn good concerts. This past Tuesday, Charlottesville had this little-known band come to town called Vampire Weekend—have you heard of them? Of course you have. Let the jealousy ensue.
Vampire Weekend has been on their 2014 tour since late March, but you would never know that from their energetic performance. The group has been touring with New York indie band Cults and together they have visited 22 other cities across the United States and South America. This concert marked Vampire Weekend’s first performance in Charlottesville at the nTelos Wireless Pavilion, but it was also one of their last shows before making their way to the Bonnaroo Music and Arts Festival, which begins on June 12th in Manchester, Tenn.
The Cults played an hour set before Vampire Weekend made their debut. The band, led by singer Madeline Follin and lead guitarist Brian Oblivion, proved to be a decent opener for the show with some powerful and soulful jams like “You Know What I Mean” and crowd favorites like “Abducted.” A somewhat newbie to the alternative/indie music scene, I had never heard of the Cults and was therefore not familiar with their music until the show. The indie-pop band was formed in New York City in 2010 and they have gained notable traction since then; by 2011 they had signed with record label In the Name Of, a company created by English singer/songwriter Lily Allen and have since released two albums. While the group proved to be great performers, I found Follin’s Betty Boop-esque voice and appearance to be slightly overbearing by the end of the set. The fact that I was unable to hear half of what Follin’s was singing might have contributed to this, but by the end of the first hour I felt myself zone out the way that I do when I’m listening to the background music that is always playing in Forever 21.
After the dreaded intermediary period between sets, Vampire Weekend finally emerged. The band walked out to the tune of the Dave Matthews Band’s “Ant Marching;” this was most likely a jab at the fact that Matthews is from Charlottesville and therefore holds an almost sacred place in our hearts. Lead vocalist Ezra Koenig took his place center stage dressed in a Knicks shirt and military cargo pants; in fact, each member of the band was dressed like they just got off from work or had just met up with some friends. Their at-ease appearance was transferred to their performances as well; each song was played with the same energy and intimacy that you might feel at a house party (that is, if that house party was comprised of several hundred people.)
The group performed the perfect mix of old and new songs—so whether you were a dedicated fan from the beginning or, like me, somewhat new in your obsession, you were going to be madly in love with your life during this show. The spectacular lighting effects often gave the Pavilion a club-like vibe, as did the close proximity to dozens of sweaty dancing people (we have a humidity problem in Virginia in case you didn’t know.) The crowd went wild for “Oxford Comma” and “Horchata,” but to be honest there was not one song during which people stood still. When it came to providing dance tunes, Vampire Weekend most certainly delivered.
As much as I enjoyed the show as a whole, I did hear a number of criticisms as I left the venue. Most of the criticisms I heard addressed the performance level of Vampire Weekend. There was only one moment in which Koenig directly addressed the crowd with words that weren’t some variation of “Thank you Charlottesville, we’re so glad to be here!” Part of the draw of live concerts is the chance to almost physically connect with the band; you’re standing so close to a group that you might be obsessively in love with and all you want is to hear them perform and, you know, address the crowd and therefore you as an individual. However, on a musical note, I found their performances to sound exactly—if not better—than the recorded versions. The exception to this was “Ya Hey” which is filled with so much auto-tuning that it’s virtually impossible to sound as good as the album version. Finally, the nTelos Wireless Pavilion is a decent venue for shows; however, I am a loyal supporter of other venues like The Jefferson, an intimate venue located about half a mile from the Pavilion, so I am always a bit biased when I attend much larger shows.
Ultimately on a general note, this concert was worth every penny and I would recommend seeing Vampire Weekend live to anyone who loves to dance and hear some pretty stellar music. The group left the stage to Frank Sinatra’s “Theme from New York, New York” and, judging by the number of families I saw high-fiving and tipsy-couples swing dancing on the cleared out standing area, I don’t think that us Charlottesville folks (or non-Charlottesville, we don’t discriminate too harshly) could have planned for a better concert.