Near the end of last night's sold out show at Philadelphia's Mann Center, Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig paused, allowed himself a smile, and said, "I was nervous before the first night of our big tour, but you guys have given us such a warm welcome."
The show was the first stop on the New York band's new tour supporting their chart-topping third album, Modern Vampires of the City. Although the band have played several festivals and a number of gigs since the album's May release, it felt like a rebirth of sorts – this tour, they headline some of their largest venues to date.
The band took to the stage as Windsor-style trumpets blared across the PA and immediately ripped into an accelerated version of "Diane Young," the lead single off the new album. It started with just thick bass and drums pushing forward as Koenig cooed, "You torched a Saab like a pile of leaves." Then, keyboardist and guitarist Rostam Batmanglij dropped in with a buzzsaw guitar, adding an immediate violent urgency to the evening.
Modern Vampires of the City found the band stretching beyond their earlier Graceland-meets-modern-pop-inspired sound and their live show these days reflect that ambition. Several songs, such as "Ya Hey" found Batmanglij dropping in processed vocals that were pitched upwards giving the set futuristic funk trappings. Even older songs, like fan favorites "A-Punk" and "Horchata" sounded like updated forms compared to their studio counterparts. They still drew inspiration from those African roots, but both the tempo and rhythm section were punched up so they sounded louder and harder. And it worked for the spacious, outdoor environment.
Koenig himself spent most of the concert standing just behind the microphone or a few steps back suggesting that he was somewhat shy of the audience, despite his spot on vocal performance and the band's increasing fan base. Meanwhile, Batmanglij and bassist Chris Baio would often move to the very edge of the stage, with Batmanglij shredding on guitar and Baio doing what only can be described as a meringue-style butt shake.
The show ended with a frantic take on their ode to leaving Cape Cod, "Walcott." It began as a rapid-fire rendition only to speed to a climax where they ended the song in a series of short, violent, cacophonous bursts. Vampire Weekend are clearly becoming more unpredictable than before, but not so much that they won't still sing about horchata and New England, at least in some form.
"Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa"
"Boston (Ladies of Cambridge)"
"Giving Up the Gun"
"One (Blake's Got a New Face)" (eith Kool and the Gang's "Hollywood Swinging" intro)