sun 14/08/2022

Vampire Weekend, Brixton O2 Academy | reviews, news & interviews

Vampire Weekend, Brixton O2 Academy

Vampire Weekend, Brixton O2 Academy

Preppy pop monsters shrug off artsdesk CD review to shine live

The death at the weekend of Doug Fieger, the co-founder of The Knack, meant that melodic US pop had lost a fine exponent. But more than 30 years on from the eternal über-hit "My Sharona" the appeal of infectious hook-lined music lives on in the work of preppy foursome Vampire Weekend, who have made their name by mixing new wave revivalism with African beats, dubbing their style “Upper West Side Soweto”.

Contra, the quartet's January follow-up to their 2008 eponymous debut, received mixed reviews. theartsdesk came down particularly hard on the band's derivative style, which frequently owed a banker's bonus-sized debt to Paul Simon's Graceland. While this case of second-album-syndrome appeared to lack bite the Vampires must be doing something right. Released on the British XL label, Contra became the first UK indie album to top the Billboard charts since Paula Abdul did it with Spellbound on Virgin in 1991.

Yet at Brixton's O2 Academy the criticisms largely fell away. Give or take the odd highlife flourish the Soweto tendencies of their two albums took a back seat to a relentlessly sunny ska-flecked Costello-meets-They Might Be Giants repertoire. At times clever-clever, at times merely clever. Their early song "Oxford Comma" promptly restated its claim to be the catchiest song ever written about grammar, while "Mansard Roof" remains a gloriously infectious pop paean to building construction, although "The Commodore's Brick House" is probably funkier.

The enthusiasm onstage was clearly sincere. Vocalist Ezra Koenig cheered the audience almost as much as they cheered him, encouraging everyone to dance, pogo and generally party between songs. Bassist Chris Baio bounced around like a rabbit on springs during the chant-along rush of "A-Punk",  Rostam Batmanglij added textured keyboards and drummer Chris Tomson laid down a firm, propulsive beat. A string section joined in for "M79", making it sound oddly like the theme to Ski Sunday.

It is easy, though, to see why this group of middle-class kids gets up people's noses. If it isn’t their cultural tourism - and let’s face it, they are not the first and certainly won’t be the last band to indulge in musical pillage - their appearance alone is enough to put musical snobs off. Sailing garb, cannily kept to a minimum on tour but sighted in videos, has not been hip since Haircut 100 and I haven’t seen this much anti-phallic guitar-cradling since the heyday of Nick Heyward either. They appear so refined they make Raef from The Apprentice seem like the dad from Shameless.

As for the collage-effect lyrics, they were often opaque on their debut and the songs from Contra, apparently about social and cultural conflict, are even less clear. “In December drinking horchata/ I look psychotic in a balaclava,” Koenig trills on "Horchata" (see video below). Thanks to Wikipedia I know that horchata is a Mexican drink, but beyond that? Answers on a postcard please. The CIA-funded Contras fought against the left-wing Sandinistas in Nicaragua (thanks again, Wiki), but I can’t quite see these wholesome twentysomethings as rabid right-wingers.

If it was the familiar first album that got the audience dancing, however, by the end of the gig the newer tracks had started to get under the skin too. Some fans may have been hoping for a dirtier Weekend after the clean-cut debut, but this is clearly a melting pot formula that works. There were enough highlights in SW9 to suggest that it will take more than a stake through the heart and a string of garlic to silence this pop monster.

Also at Brixton O2 Academy tonight (17 Feb). Their album Contra (XL) is out now.

Follow Bruce Dessau on Twitter

Find Contra on Amazon

Below: Vampire Weekend perform 'Horchata' live on TV

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