Vampire Weekend

Posted January 10, 2008 in
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Vampire Weekend/Grand Ole Party
12.7.07; Kilby Court
By: Kat Kellermeyer

Shame on any of you who considered going to this show and then made some lame excuse about the weather. Sure, there was the large possibility of your tin-can car dying, or better yet, crashing on unplowed roads. Sure, you’d rather stay warm in bed than huddle around the fire pit or cram into the shack at Kilby. Sure, there are ten thousand reasons not to go, but using just one of them means you missed some of the best two reasons to drag your whiney ass to Kilby this winter.

I’d already made plans to see Vampire Weekend when someone from Grand Ole Party contacted SLUG regarding media coverage. Until the request went out, I had no idea who would be the opening act, and due to [insert lame excuse here], I wasn’t able to check into the group beforehand.

Fortunately, Grand Ole Party was about to make themselves one of my favorite discoveries of the year. With an old bluesy style akin to Big Brother And The Holding Company— Janis Joplin’s original project for those not savvy—this three piece group knocked the wind right out of the crowd with brash, in-your-face tunes.

Watching Kristen Gundred perform is like watching an Olympic event in multi-tasking. As though drumming isn’t complicated enough, Gundred sings, too. Correction: she belts these tunes in an all-out bluesy wail and still manages a top-notch performance in every department; vocally, instrumentally and aesthetically. She doesn’t just sing the lyrics, she forces them on the audience with a strangle-hold intensity. No doubt Gundred has heard the Janis Joplin comparisons before, but the analogy falls short of doing true justice. A much cleaner sound than Joplin, her style is brash but crystal clear and vibrant at the same time. This girl’s voice just rings, especially in a venue like Kilby. Add in an almost Jack White-like emoting and lyrics like, “I must be the devil’s daughter; such a dark spirit to dwell in me,” one could go so far as to compare Grand Ole Party to first-album White Stripes: complex blues in three part simplicity and vocals so heavy they give you chills.

Backed up vocally by guitarist John Paul Labno and bassist Mike Krechnyak, the trio didn’t bother easing into the performance, opening with “Nasty Habits,” a heavy, haunting song made only eerier with Gundred’s spot-on vocals. All three perform with incredible intensity, more like a single unit than separate band members. Labno never has to struggle against the others when he goes into a solo. They have an amazing sense of balance and are definitely a potential powerhouse in blues-rock.

Grand Ole Party’s premiere album, Humanimals, has an incredible sound, but barely does them the same justice their live performance did. And anyone who has heard their music knows that’s saying quite a lot. And anyone who hasn’t heard their music, is seriously missing out. Grand Ole Party put on enough of a show that I could have gone home happy with just having seen them. I was almost worried the only direction the show could go from there was down. But as luck would have it, it just kept getting better.

A friend with an occult fetish messing around on iTunes introduced me to the headlining group just as they released their first self-titled EP: Vampire Weekend. Don’t be fooled by the name; Vampire Weekend is far from the goth/metal or emo groups you’d assume they’d be. Forget high-school drama; these are college boys (Columbia graduates to be exact), and their lyrics cover everything from persnickety grammar (Oxford Comma) to mentions of The Dalai Lama, Lil’ John and Louis Vuitton.

Despite being labeled as “preppy music” by some, this Ivy League indie-rock group has broken the mold with their African pop/Soukous influences, referring to their style as “Upper West Side Soweto.” Already the group has made huge advances into the music community, even scoring a spot on Rolling Stone’s list of “Top 100 Songs For 2007.” (#67: Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa)

Good music just gets better with a good performance and these four fellows are as energetic as their music. Everyone in this group dances along in their own style: Bassist Chris Baio keeps tempo with a strange Charleston inspired shuffle-dance while Ezra Koenig, guitarist and vocalist, keeps the boom angled high and sings virtually the whole performance on his tip-toes, stretching to his “tippie” toes for those high notes.

Though Utah natives might have been put off by yet another snowstorm, Vampire Weekend enjoyed the change of scenery. For all but Koenig, it was the band’s first time to Utah and the entire band’s first time to a snowy Utah. Rostam Batmanglij, the group’s keyboardist/backup vocalist was the first to comment, and then Koenig going on to call it “magical, not just to be playing while it snows but to be able to see it happening while you’re playing.” The group then introduced their Kwassa Kwassa as, “the most wintery song” they’d be playing that night. Koenig then added with a grin as he looked out the window, “It seems very appropriate.”

Koenig and Batmanglij remained vocal with the audience between numbers; from commenting on how nice it was to be able to perform a whole show in a sweater without dying from the heat, to inviting the group to dance along to “A-Punk,” a track from their premiere album set to be released late this month. Koenig prefaced the song by saying, “I don’t know if you people dance—or feel like dancing—but if you do, this song is the one to dance to.” So dance we did. Well, three or so of us, but the band seemed pleased enough. The group went onto mention the video that was soon to be released for the song, again laughing about the snow and assuring that the audience would understand their amusement once they saw the video, released January 8th.Here's the link.

Vampire Weekend’s show was the perfect ending to a cold, wet, and potentially miserable day. Their warm tunes and upbeat performance were just what Utah needed in the cold season. I’ve officially been won over by these boys, and I’m looking forward to the next time they come through. Even without the wintry backdrop, this group is a definite must for any indie junkie’s calendar. Just remember: come prepared to dance.

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