June 20, 2024
Vampire Weekend Lights Up CalCoast Amphitheater with Unconventional Show
Freya Greenwood

Heading to CalCoast Credit Union Amphitheater on a chilly Monday night doesn’t sound like an appealing evening, but when you hear Vampire Weekend is performing after a hiatus from touring in the US, you power through for the music. However, the music was not the only thing I ended up getting; from an interpretive dancer to a money prize game, I found myself more intrigued by the crowd and surprises rather than the music.

Formed in 2006 in New York City, Vampire Weekend is known for their eclectic sound that blends indie rock with world music influences. The band, consisting of lead vocalist and guitarist Ezra Koenig, drummer Chris Baio, multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij, and bassist Chris Tomson, rose to prominence with their self-titled debut album in 2008 and have released several critically acclaimed albums since. Their newest album Only God Was Above Us, released in 2024, continues to showcase their evolving musical style and has been well-received by fans and critics alike. Over the years, Vampire Weekend has garnered a dedicated fanbase and continues to be a significant presence in the indie rock scene.

L: Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig plays guitar, his face obscured by shadows. R: Koenig plays guitar and sings. Hana Tobias for KSDT Radio

Vampire Weekend kicked off their concert with a few mellow tunes, leaving me to wonder if I could endure the chilly theater all night. But the initial calm quickly gave way to excitement. After the first few songs, the backdrop emblazoned with the band’s name fell away—and with it so too did the facade of a calm evening—to unveil an eclectic full-band setup and a futuristic stage design. The nostalgia of the band was clear from the crowd, with an older beer-drinking crowd dominating the theatre. The packed venue sang along passionately, showing the devoted fanbase the band has garnered. The band continued, playing a more popular song of theirs, “Capricorn” which had the whole crowd singing along. A plethora of technical issues continually popped up, resulting in safety vest-clad stagehands entering to fix instruments or mics. However, the band used this to their advantage. Unexpectedly, another man in a safety vest entered center stage, shocking everyone with a unique interpretive dance along with an instrumental jazz combo.

L: Stagehands wearing safety vests remove the fallen backdrop. R: A dancer performs on stage with Vampire Weekend. Hana Tobias for KSDT Radio

The night only continued to get stranger. Signs at the entrance warned of strobe lights, and rightly so, as the constant pulsing verged on sensory overload at times. Intense lighting and heavy bass persisted throughout the show, making it feel more like an electronic or rock concert. Adding to the unique vibe, the band introduced unusual sounds and instruments, with the pianist tearing up the keyboard that released a spacey electric tune. The band’s talent was evident as lead singer Ezra Koenig introduced the members, each of whom had a solo. The audience was particularly captivated by San Diego native violinist Ray Suen, who stole the show with an incredible performance during “Sympathy,” once again donning the infamous safety vest. I would boldly say that his performance was a highlight of my evening.

The mood shifted as the band introduced a medley they call “Cocaine Cowboys”, a clear country-inspired mix that included snippets of “Married in a Gold Rush,” “All the Gold in California,” “Sin City,” “Cumberland Blues,” and “Possum.” Following the medley, the band paused their music to intrigue the audience with a game that they dubbed a “high-tech version of what some people call cornhole”. They brought out a decadently decorated sack toss board and invited a supposed fan from the crowd on stage to play. After missing three tosses, the fan was awarded $300 for participating. The game seemed to be inspired by “Cocaine Cowboys,” where they sing about money and gold. As Ezra stated, “We put our money where our mouth is.”

The rest of the performance included lots of beautiful harmonizing, an incredibly strong bass that shook the theater, and more lush orchestrations. The band ended their “final” song, “Hope,” with a serene outro, each member leaving the stage one by one as the music gently faded. Despite their departure, they returned a few minutes later for an encore, starting with a cover of the beloved “Jack and Diane,” which prompted a sing-along from much of the audience. They chose songs by inviting an audience member to choose a cover, leading to a rendition of “Just Like Heaven.” While the evening seemed to drag at this point, they ultimately concluded with “Walcott,” a familiar classic, bringing the night to a satisfying close.

Members of the Vampire Weekend touring band play keys (L) and saxophone (R). Hana Tobias for KSDT Radio

The show’s unexpected elements like an interpretive dancer and a money prize game, while entertaining, often overshadowed the music itself. The atmosphere felt more like a carnival or rave with eccentric strobe lights, heavy bass, and elaborate medley creating a sense of constant distraction. Was I entertained for the majority of the show? Yes, but not necessarily by the music. The band’s performance, though solid, sometimes felt lost amid the sensory overload. Even the inclusion of a talented San Diegan native violist couldn’t fully bring the focus back to the music. While Vampire Weekend’s blend of old favorites and new tracks was enjoyable, it often took a back seat to the night’s theatrics, leaving me questioning whether the entertainment was meant to compensate for the music.

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