After a six-year absence, Vampire Weekend returned last week with their long-awaited fourth LP Father Of The Bride, and the band celebrated its release with a very special, intimate stop at NYC's recently-renovated Webster Hall on Sunday (5/5), which served as the final date on their New York State mini-tour. The ambitious event was over seven hours long, consisting of three sets (one entailed a full performance of Father Of The Bride), with complimentary food to hold over the sold-out crowd in between (drinks weren't free though). Throughout the show, cameramen often roamed around the stage, and according to a poster near the entrance, the entire production is being overseen by Amazon Studios. Perhaps a concert film and/or live album is on the way?
When the doors first opened at 10 AM, the weather was generally miserable and rainy outside, but fans were greeted by tables full of bagels with cream cheese from the nearby Ess-A-Bagel, and a variety of salad options. The band was also selling limited merchandise nearby, tailored specifically for both the day's show and the NY State mini-tour, with signed vinyl also being sold. Soon afterwards, the audience began piling into the main ballroom to catch the band's first of three sets. The band kicked things off with a dazzling cover of The Velvet Underground's "Sunday Morning," which was fitting, as the show began around 11 AM on a Sunday. The cover seamlessly and slowly transitioned into the band's first original song of the day, "Obvious Bicycle," which was received with enthusiastic applause from the crowd once they realized what song was starting. This first set was the band's most cover-heavy of the night, with the band covering Bruce Springsteen's "I'm Goin' Down," Fleetwood Mac's "Everywhere," and Paul Simon's "Late in the Evening" all in succession. While it may have seemed gimmicky to pack this set with covers, the band managed to make it work by putting a funky, vibrant twist on each song that only Vampire Weekend could have done. The band made sure to include originals too, of course, such as "Giving Up The Gun," "Unbelievers" and "The Kids Don't Stand A Chance." During banter, frontman Ezra Koenig warned the audience, "This is going to be our longest show yet, I hope you know what you're in for!"
After a half-hour break, the band returned to the stage to begin their second set, which was a full performance of Father Of The Bride. As expected by some audience members, Danielle Haim came onstage to duet with Ezra on the album's leadoff track "Hold You Now," which absolutely shined in a live setting, with Danielle's vocals sounding pristine above the track's gentle acoustic guitar. The album's lead single "Harmony Hall" was up next, which most of the audience clearly knew all the lyrics to, with the crowd shoving their arms into the air as Ezra passionately sung the refrain "I don't want to live like this, but I don't wanna die!" A bit later, it was time for the band to perform the record's fourth track "This Life," but to the surprise of the entire crowd, all three Haim sisters joined them to sing backup on the song (only Danielle appears on the album). Watching the sisters sway back and forth while performing the song's harmonized backing vocals was certainly a treat to watch, with one of them even making the observation, "This is the closest we've ever been on stage," referencing the lack of room they shared in front of the microphones.
Most of the album's live versions sounded fairly identical to how they sounded on record, with the notable exception of tracks like "2021," which was extended into a much longer, jammier version, with Ezra using a talkbox during the second half of the song. It was clear the band wanted to experiment with how they could jam with these new songs, most of which were being played live for the first time, considering the many hours they had scheduled in the venue. "Sunflower" and "Flower Moon" were also jammier highlights; these songs both feature Steve Lacy on the album, but to the crowd's dismay, Steve could not attend the show due to his ongoing tour with The Internet, but Ezra playfully joked, "But we still know how to play them." The playful "Sunflower" was a nice, catchy two-minute single to start with, but the band turned the track completely on its head, adding new guitar solo sections, and even an aggressive hard rock section, which threw the audience into a chaotic blur. Once the second set wrapped up, guests took advantage of the much-needed break to rest their legs and stretch, and were also treated to free pizza in the lobby, which came in both regular and gluten-free options.
The band's third and final set could be seen as the "greatest hits set," with the band cramming tons of their most popular tracks into their final hour onstage. The band picked things back up with the fan favorite "Walcott," which was a great way to re-energize the audience, who had been inside the venue for around five hours at that point. This set pretty much contained the majority of both Contra and their debut LP, and by the time the night was over, the band had played the entirety of those two albums. Bassist Chris Baio was the band's most energetic performer of the day, as he frequently danced along to each song, often wiggling his hips with his back turned, and generally lightening the mood among the crowd (he often led the audience in clap-alongs). Baio also shed his bass guitar for a few minutes to perform his own solo track, the upbeat "Sister of Pearl," which involved him partaking in even more wild dancing and hip movements. Baio later asked the crowd if it was still pouring rain outside, and complimented, "It's a little ugly out there, but it's all sunshine in here." The band also surprised the audience with the live debut of "Jonathan Low," a 2010 non-album song that appeared on the Twilight: Eclipse soundtrack.
After ending their third set with a string of their biggest tracks, like "Diane Young," "Oxford Comma," and "A-Punk," among others, the band departed the stage and quickly returned for an encore, beginning with a fiery cover of Thin Lizzy's "The Boys Are Back In Town," a reference to this being a special hometown show for the band, and also the fact the song played as their entrance music earlier in the day. The night ended with the band inviting friend Dev Hynes (aka Blood Orange) onstage to perform "Ya Hey," which was met with deafening applause from the crowd. Dev traded verses with Ezra throughout the song, with the two finishing the already-climactic song together with a triumphant finale, capping off a very long, yet exciting day.
This 56-song show was clearly meant for big fans, but even if you aren't a big fan, it would have been hard to attend this show and not be won over by their high level of musicianship alone. The band's live show featured four touring members who all held their own beside the main band, and at times even outshined them altogether. Lead guitarist Brian Robert Jones was a particular force to be reckoned with onstage, as he was not only a great counterpart to Ezra's guitar melodies, but also consistently delivered passionate, creative guitar solos that elevated already-great songs to simply unforgettable ones. I was truly shocked at just how solid the band was live, and the fact they were able to hold both my and the entire audience's attention for literally an entire day without fail is something that should of course be celebrated. I really do hope the show makes it to a concert film or live album format, because an event this impressive deserves the world's attention.
If you didn't see Vampire Weekend at this show, you can catch them on tour this summer, including a show at a much bigger NYC venue, Madison Square Garden, in September (some tickets are still on sale). View fan-shot photos and video from the entire day, as well as the band's massive setlist, below.
Setlist - Vampire Weekend @ Webster Hall 5/5/19
Sunday Morning (The Velvet Underground cover)
I'm Goin' Down (Bruce Springsteen cover)
Everywhere (Fleetwood Mac cover)
Late in the Evening (Paul Simon cover)
Giving Up the Gun
The Kids Don't Stand a Chance
Jokerman (Bob Dylan cover)
Hold You Now (with Danielle Haim)
This Life (with HAIM)
Rich Man (live debut)
Married in a Gold Rush (with Danielle Haim) (live debut)
My Mistake (live debut)
Sympathy (live debut)
We Belong Together (with Danielle Haim) (live debut)
Stranger (with Danielle Haim) (live debut)
Spring Snow (live debut)
Jerusalem, New York, Berlin (live debut)
Boston (Ladies of Cambridge)
Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa
New Dorp. New York (SBTRKT cover)
I Stand Corrected
Sister of Pearl (Baio song)
Jonathan Low (live debut)
One (Blake's Got a New Face)
I Think Ur a Contra
The Boys Are Back in Town (Thin Lizzy cover) (with Danielle Haim)
Ya Hey (with Dev Hynes)