Because Vampire Weekend are the ultimate college band (at least for people who balk at the notion of a college band), it made sense that frontman Ezra Koenig had instruction in mind last night at Hollywood’s Henry Fonda Theater, where the New York quartet played a sold-out record-release show in honor of Contra, their terrific new second disc. “This is a good one to scream along to,” Koenig said before the band played “M79”; later, he introduced “A-Punk” by announcing, “This is the song where you start to dance.”
In fact, Koenig had no trouble inspiring those desired reactions: Throughout much of Vampire Weekend’s tidy 80-minute set, the pumped-up capacity crowd could have passed for the throng at a mall appearance by Justin Bieber. These guys may sing about punctuation and architecture, but with their button-down shirts and their cute haircuts, the group’s teen-dream appeal is an old-fashioned no-brainer.
Playing in front of an enormous blow-up of Contra‘s cover, Koenig and his bandmates ripped through muscular new songs like “Holiday” and “Cousins” and gave older jams such as “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” a fresh coat of road-veteran vigor. Drummer Chris Tomson seemed especially determined to prove that Vampire Weekend are no longer the effete lightweights many fingered them as following their 2008 debut; several times he had to stand up to hit his drums as hard as he wanted to. Keyboardist-guitarist Rostam Batmanglij pushed plenty of buttons in order to reproduce Contra’s more expansive textures, which left Koenig space to work his fans like a pint-sized David Byrne.
He only lost their attention during “Taxi Cab,” a lovely new ballad whose contemplative vibe was no match for the Tuesday-night chatter of the industry types clogging the back of the room. (“You turned me to on these guys,” one such type was overheard telling another — a quaint idea now that Vampire Weekend seem so unavoidable.) Soon enough, though, Koenig had his admirers back in the palm of his hand, inciting a pogo party during “Walcott” and leading a venue full of Californians in a sing-along about getting out of Cape Cod tonight.
“Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”
“I Stand Corrected”
“One (Blake’s Got a New Face)”
“Giving Up the Gun”