WFNX's Miracle on Tremont Street, Orpheum Theatre December 7, 2008
QUIET RIOT: On disc, Vampire Weekend are J. Crew in Namibia, but live they’re a fiery, exciting, surprising, dynamic pop-rock force.
Somehow, I ended up with extra tickets for last Sunday's Vampire Weekend show, and I gotta tell you: I couldn't give these things away. "Hate that shit," said a friend, with what felt like specificity. "Yeah . . . no," said another, as though resisting a fatty treat. Finding Vampire Weekend fans is tougher than you'd expect. And despite the squees of just under 3000 of them, you could catch a faint whiff of shame in the air in the Orpheum's lobby — and it wasn't just over the $8 beers.
"On our résumé, we don't have 'incite a riot' " offered Reggie Youngblood, the singer/guitarist of openers Black Kids, after suggesting that audience members rip out their seats and riot. This sort of oddly phrased, unconvincing provocation characterizes much of their work. Youngblood has a squeal as soulful as a housewife spotting a mouse, and his contributions to their bland post-disco ambitions amount to something like Robert Smith stumbling into the Buggles' jam space on his 20th birthday.
Vampire Weekend entered with a prolonged blast of Jay-Z. Note that whereas Black Kids get razzed for casually playing up their (partial) blackness, VW get naked and roll around in their whiteness — and that may be part of what repels so many potential fans. On record, their up-tempo approximation of Graceland's adorable tourism often sounds like something you'd hear at J. Crew's Namibia flagship; but live, they're a fiery, exciting, surprising, dynamic pop-rock force. Opener "Mansard Roof" had the house squealing and stomping; "Oxford Comma" elicited reggae-rock air slaps from selected viewers the likes of which haven't been dealt since — well, since someone last listened to 311 in his or her car. "One (Blake's Got a New Face)" and a cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Everywhere" scored high marks for crowd participation. But it was set ender "Walcott" that shook the mezzanine so hard, terrified Orpheum staff had to run around Footloose-style and scold kids for bouncing (even if it was the balcony bouncing them). Hi-larious stuff, but if this is what counts as a riot, Vampire Weekend may be right: "The kids don't stand a chance."
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