Let’s get right to it: Vampire Weekend put on a truly fantastic show on Milwaukee’s lakefront Wednesday night.
Now armed with a three-album arsenal for their live shows, the New York City four-piece charged through a 19-song, 75-minute set that featured much of 2013’s Modern Vampires of the City along with the band’s best tracks from 2010’s Contra and 2008’s self-titled debut.
The band ended the show on the night’s highest note – a high energy rendition of “Walcott,” one of the band’s earliest recordings and one that still ranks among its strongest work to date. The night’s killer opener, “Diane Young,” the dance-in-the-aisles crowdpleaser “A-Punk,” and the beautiful first-set closer “Obvious Bicycle” were other notables among the night’s many standouts.
And the BMO Harris Pavilion, with the help of the Pabst Theater group, proved to be the perfect venue for those songs to reach their considerable high notes.
With the show moving to a roughly 6,000-person capacity (at least for this particular show) outdoor venue after selling out the 2,500-seat Riverside Theater almost instantly, there were concerns as to whether or not the still fairly new, but somewhat underutilized outdoor venue on the Summerfest grounds would be the right setting for the critically-acclaimed band to fully showcase its talents. Having seen Vampire Weekend and its brilliantly ornate live show in its last Milwaukee stop at the Riverside Theater in 2010, I certainly shared many of those concerns.
The grandiose hanging white pillars and mirror-like projection screen during “Diane Young” immediately put those concerns to rest, as did the later floral design backdrop used during “Unbelievers.” Both cemented the venue’s ability to accommodate elaborate set designs a band like Vampire Weekend demands.
The venue’s sound was quite good – and frankly, far better than I had expected–and the lights were pitch perfect at every step. This show is the latest example of the Pabst Theater group’s ability to exceed expectations regardless of circumstance. At this point, let’s just hand them the keys to everything.
Vampire Weekend’s ability to succeed in a bigger venue like this is part of what makes them an especially compelling band; you get the sense the band believes bigger venues are exactly where they belong. There is a certain confidence to their performance that gives the impression they’re not in the least bit surprised by their success.
And this could come across as needlessly arrogant - if not for the band’s high level of musicianship. There’s nothing accidental about a band that performs together this well.
Lead singer Ezra Koenig is the Vampire Weekender to receive the lion’s share of attention – and he is unquestionably talented and plays the frontman/songwriter role remarkably well – but musically, the band’s true star is multi-instrumentalist, producer and songwriter Rotsam Batmanglij, who requires a live setting to be appropriately appreciated.
During the show, Batmanglij played somewhere between three and 7,000 different instruments (Editor's note: This is an estimate), and it was clear he’s the one that – at least musically – makes the band tick with bouncy, crisp precision.
Batmanglij, however, is not exactly a showman. But he doesn’t need to be while sharing a stage with a genuine performer like Koenig and a goofy ball of energy like bassist Chris Baio, who led the crowd in several clap-alongs, showed off his best lanky-white-guy kick moves, and shook his ass at every opportunity.
Vampire Weekend is not afraid to have some fun, and the Milwaukee crowd was more than happy to oblige.
The night’s concertgoers spanned generations. Early on, it appeared as if the crowd might skew especially young, as an insanely long line for tour shirts dwarfed the lines at the beer tents, but an older crowd eventually showed up.
New York band Cults opened. The band’s sound was a bit uneven, but catchy single “Go Outside” and an energetic cover of The Motels’s “Total Control” ultimately made the set worthwhile. One member of the band said the BMO Harris Pavilion was “the biggest venue we’ve ever played in our entire lives,” so perhaps that had something to do with the performance.
Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa
Giving Up The Gun
[End Set One]
Thumbnail image via Shutterstock.