Illustration by Raya Deussen

Vampire Weekend is back and better than ever

A few hundred people huddled together outside in the 40-degree weather at McMenamin’s Edgefield Lawn while the steam of their breath blended with the smoke of their vapes. Thankfully, a massive thunderstorm had just passed before the outdoor concert began. We laid down our blanket on top of the muddy grass, bopped our heads to indie-rock opener Soccer Mommy and watched others slip in the mud as they tried to get closer to the stage before the main event. Without any notice or introductions, Vampire Weekend walked nonchalantly on stage and began performing. A woman rushed past us, slipping on the rain-soaked ground and spilling her beer as soon as she saw frontman Ezra Koenig. 

After a six-year hiatus and the departure of founding member Rostam Batmanglij, the band returned with the release of their newest album, “Father of the Bride (FOTB),” in May 2019. The album is predictably eclectic — blending Vampire Weekend’s classic upbeat indie style with modern pop, marimba drums, poetic lyrics, eerie choir vocals, electric guitar solos (thanks to Steve Lacy, a collaborator on the album), hip-hop beats and even country twang. The band is known for drawing from a plethora of different music genres with worldwide music inspirations and FOTB reaffirms this characteristic. Their chosen album and tour logo is a blue and green globe, which is seen on records and as a huge rotating inflatable Earth on stage during their shows. LEDs and various sized lights surrounded the stage, bathing the band in blue and green as they kicked off the concert with “Sympathy,” a new song from FOTB.       

Vampire Weekend is famous for their ability to put on an entertaining — and unpredictable — live show. Not one song is played how they are recorded in the studio, with each member adding extended riffs, new sounds or strong flares. This show was no exception. In the middle of their  performance of a new song, “Sunflower,” Koenig and guitarist Steve Lacy had a multi-minute punk-rock guitar jam session, complete with fog machines, strobe lights and screaming fans. Knowing that their older music from their 2008 debut album “Vampire Weekend” or 2013 album “Modern Vampires of the City” is still incredibly popular, the show was split pretty evenly between new songs and re-takes on classics. Breakout hits “A-Punk” and “Giving Up the Gun” were played with a worldly vibe, incorporating new instruments and vocal key changes from Koenig and vocalist Greta Morgan. 

The show’s finale was a mash-up of Vampire Weekend’s 2013 song “Obvious Bicycle” and Dusty Springfield’s 1969 hit “Son of a Preacher Man.” The band, with their reinvented sounds and new takes on old classics, has successfully been reborn while still maintaining their original sound that has kept fans loyal during their six-year hiatus.

“Thank you, Portland,” Koeni said calmly after almost every applause. “Last time we played here was nine years ago.” 

Despite their worldwide success, they maintain a sort of humbleness on stage as if they are a local band just glad to be there.

The lights went dark, and the band then walked off stage just as unannounced as they arrived — leaving the crowd begging for more. So, they came back. The FOTB world tour so far has been renowned for its encores, where they perform covers of old songs like Chicago’s “Saturday in the Park” and take requests from crowd members (only if they are wearing bucket hats, however). They concluded the show with four  songs from their earlier albums and a modernized cover of Paul Simon’s 1980 song “Late in the Evening Sky.” Lights strobed, the Earth behind them spun and a dozen flags branding other Vampire Weekend and FOTB symbols unfurled from the roof of the stage. 

“I think this is our coldest show on the tour,” Koenig said. “It’s cool, though. It’s good to be back in Portland.”

The crowd went wild, screaming “I love you” and song requests. Vampire Weekend has been reborn, and they are having just as much fun doing it as fans have watching them.

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