SNL Sound-Off: Vampire Weekend
I really, really didn't want to like Vampire Weekend's Saturday Night Live stint on the eve of their forthcoming record, Modern Vampires of the City. I'm one of those haters whose ears bleed at the mere mention of an Oxford Comma, I think they sound like the soundtrack to a fancy Hamptons beach party I can't afford, and if they come up in conversation, I'm the one who makes an awkward "Hey I listened to Paul Simon's Graceland too GIMME A GUITAR AND SOME NANTUCKET REDS BRAH" joke that rarely goes over well. I didn't find them entirely deplorable, but the flailing and falling-all-over-yourself thing that happens when someone gets into a heated defense of Contra or the "inventive" nature of Vampire Weekend's plucky pop-rock numbers that you forget the second the song's over, I find them eye roll-inducing at best. They don't do it for me lyrically, they don't break any ground sonically, but for whatever reason, they're fun and I'll still dance my face off to their shit--and this is why their performances of "Diane Young" and "Unbelievers" have me in a bit of a bind.
See also: Play Guitar the Vampire Weekend Way
Up first: "Diane Young" and the weirdest inclusion of a bass sax I've ever seen in my whole damn life, in that it sounded like a cross between a convoluted bass line and the sound Mario makes when he squashes a mushroom somewhere outside of Bowser's castle. I appreciate the Elvis vibes Ezra Koenig channels here and the high-octane bursts of energy he belts out from the lowest to the highest recesses of his vocal register. I dig the sock-hop-worthy strumming. And hell, I even think the strange "Baby right on time" breakdown with the exponential drop in BPMs works in a live setting. WHAT IS HAPPENING TO ME?!
Is it weird that I can't get Kate Nash's "Fri-end?" out of my head while listening through "Unbelievers" (or that I like Kate's way better)? This goes back to my "This band isn't original in the slightest" thing--they're experts at throwing a bunch of musical flavors in a bag and shaking it up and pouring it on a plate and convincing you that what you see before you proves they were the first to be inspired by "African drumming" or Elvis--but sometimes fluff like this is okay, and if it's catchy, all the better for it. "Unbelievers" will likely be the riotous favorite when they head out on tour in support of Modern Vampires of the City (with a stop at the Barclays Center on September 20, NBD), as its got the handclaps and sing-along chorus that lends itself particularly well to declarations of love and independence. The audience at SNL clapped their faces off and ate it up, and I'm sure the Barclays Center will do the same.
Would I say I'm a Vampire Weekend convert? Not necessarily. They did well on the SNL stage, an environment that throws imperfect sound and a handful of extenuating circumstances out of your creative control at them from every direction, and I didn't hate the 8 or so minutes I spent watching them play in between snippets of the glorious return of Kristen Wiig. The rest of the internet felt pretty good about it, though, except for that one guy who wished the drummer would wear a Phish t-shirt (#what).