In July of 2007, a full six months before they released their debut album, Vampire Weekend opened for Shout Out Louds at Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco. Granted, everyone in the crowd already knew who they were — their self-released EP catapulted these Cure-covering, cardigan-wearing, Columbia college students to fame faster than your high-speed Internet access could comprehend. Critics and bloggers alike were falling over each other to heap praise on these kids from New York. Yet, when these prep school hipsters took the stage at that 250 person venue, they did not impress me. And I wasn’t alone. People were milling around on Fell St., smoking cigarettes and conversing among themselves, while Vampire Weekend played to a half-empty house on a sold-out night.
Despite that lackluster performance, I was excited to hear what a full length Vampire Weekend album would sound like. When it came out, I was left with that same empty feeling. Sure, it was an ok indie pop album with a little afro flavor, but there was nothing to justify the reviews I had read. Then Contra came out in 2010. To my ears, this sophomore release was a giant leap forward in terms of maturity, originality and enjoyability — nothing mind-blowing, but a damn fine example of modern indie pop music. I saw them play Red Rocks that year, along with Beach House and Dum Dum Girls, and it was an enjoyable show, yet it was still nothing to wet my pants over. And even with a solid supporting line-up, no more than two thirds of the seats were occupied by warm bodies. Blame it on management, promoters, or whoever, but someone over estimated the popularity of this band — a band whose popularity seemed to have peaked before they even got started.
Fast-forward a few years and you’d think the members of Vampire Weekend would be lost in side-side-side projects making atmospheric electronic black metal, or some shit like that. But instead, this band has not only held it together, they have beat the ‘indie darling’ odds and become something so much more than fancy words on a page. As all four members say goodbye to their 20’s, they are saying hello to a bright future as a band who have given up sweaters in favor of substance. Having just released their finest record to date, Vampire Weekend have broken through the buzz that can make and break bands with a click of the mouse. They are no longer the preppy hipsters that people love (or love to hate) based on image. With Modern Vampires of the City, the band has become more than what we were promised back in 2007. No longer worried about being cool, Vampire Weekend have broken through to the mainstream, and the mainstream is that much better for it.
This type of fame comes with a different level of responsibility — a responsibility they took very seriously last night. As they played their hearts out to a sold-out crowd at Red Rocks, they not only had strong new material, they were a completely different band. Gone were the nervous kids, and in their place was a true rock and roll band — a band whose tickets were fetching $100+ on craigslist in the weeks leading up to the show. Not only did they earn the love projected on them from the masses between the monoliths, they deserved the second chance that people such as myself gave them. It’s too often that I let stories, interviews and image get in the way of music I might enjoy. Last night’s performance broke through all of that. No fancy lights, no giant stage props (besides a mirror and some pillars), just a practiced band doing what they do so well. I’m sure there were haters in the crowd, hand-in-hand with a boyfriend or girlfriend or husband or wife who love the band, but I guarantee they left singing a different tune — one that had quite a few “la-la la-la-la”‘s in it.
One of the best things about Red Rocks is getting up there early, getting a good parking spot, and doing some tailgating. Cheesesteaks from Taste of Philly and Oskar Blues Tallboys (G’Knight or Deviant Dales) are my prefered fuel for a show. Last night was no exception. As the black thunder clouds rolled out of town, we were nothing but grateful that the storm has passed quickly, leaving us with only the lightest of rain in the early evening, and clear skies for the show. It might have been slightly chilly when Of Monsters and Men took the stage, but by the time they got around to their first single, “Little Talks”, rain parkas had been shed in favor of dancing for warmth. I have to admit I had my doubts about this band, but by the time they left the stage, I had a whole new perspective.
Our 10-year old daughter was with us because of Of Monsters and Men. She loves them. She was the one who informed me that they are from Iceland “just like Sigur Rós”, making me one proud parent. And as she was jumping up and down on the bench, clapping her hands and singing along, I realized I had completely misread this band. I always assumed they were a folk act following in the footsteps of Mumford & Sons and The Avett Brothers, something way too many bands are doing today, but Of Monsters and Men are something quite different. Female lead, Nanna Bryndís Hilmarsdóttir, reminds me more of Björk than Laura Marling, and their sound wouldn’t be in strange company on Arts & Crafts. In fact, I couldn’t help but think of Stars every time Þórhallsson and Hilmarsdóttir passed vocals duties back and forth. Evidently this band is a favorite among the kids, and although they’ll never top my playlists, I have to say there are much worse bands my daughter could be into. More a dual-headliner than an opening act, Of Monsters and Men had the disadvantage of playing half their set in broad daylight, but they made the most of their situation. And if you’re going to perform during the day, you’d be hard pressed to find a better setting than Red Rocks.
Overall it was a perfect start to my 2013 Red Rocks season. I gained a newfound appreciation for both bands. We got to spend time with a friend I hadn’t seen in a couple years. And seeing our daughter truly enjoy a concert at Red Rocks was priceless. This really is why I live here.
Of Monsters and Men:
Slow and Steady
Beneath My Bed
Skeletons (Yeah Yeah Yeahs Cover)
Love Love Love
King and Lionheart
Little Talks (Acoustic)
Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa
I Stand Corrected
Boston (Ladies of Cambridge)
Giving Up the Gun
One (Blake’s Got a New Face)