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Vampire Weekend at the Wiltern, 09/18/08

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I'll be honest with you - Prior to seeing them live, I couldn't muster up enough emotion to form an opinion about Vampire Weekend. I didn't have anything against them, but they were firmly in the won't-turn-it-off-if-it-comes-on-the-radio/wouldn't-make-fun-if-they-were-on-a-friend's-iPod category - likable, definitely; terrible, definitely not, but I found them unremarkable, inoffensive and competently un-mind blowing.

After seeing them perform at the Wiltern last thursday, I can report that my opinion was somewhat misguided. No, I don't think I saw pure genius on display, but damn it, these guys are fracking likable. They performed expertly written pop songs that reflected their own excellent record collections more than any original ideas, but they put on an great show, displayed admirable rapport with the crowd, and even had very nice things to say about our fine city, all of which helped endear them to your vain and egocentric reviewer. And it's definitely true that being amid a crowd of screaming, enthusiastic fans does something to soften one's attitude.

But it's true also that whatever Vampire Weekend's deficiencies, they're smart, stylish and a lot of fun, and their music grows on you. Not like a tumor, but like your hair after you start using Rogain™; you didn't really think it would happen but you're pleasantly surprised by the results, even if you'll never admit to using it in public. Luckily for those of you who couldn't make it, we brought back a visual record of the experience. Enjoy and then click below to read further thoughts on the experience, including some footnotes, which add nothing to this review but have been included nonetheless for padding purposes.

All photos taken for LAist by Rebecca Lips.

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Now, as for the band itself?

Used to, there was (or at least appeared to be*) a much more immediate chain of influence between British and American popular music. This isn't a good or a bad thing, just a something that used to be the case and now isn't. I'm not going to write a history of the Baby Boom generation but I'll assume the reader has heard of the 60s, 70s and 80s music scene.

Point is, sometime between Duran Duran and the moment Nirvana hit number one, that chain of influence came to a grinding, pathetic halt. Nowadays, the American bands that end up becoming absolutely huge in England are entirely unknown here, and as for British bands, aside from rare exceptions** like Coldplay and Radiohead, (and ignoring that cities like LA*** remain stubbornly open minded enough to give Morrissey or Belle and Sebastian sellout crowds in large venues), Americans simply could not give a shit about British bands.

Except after the fact. Bands who couldn't get a song played on the radio a decade earlier find their oeuvre strip-mined like the West Virginia countryside for ideas. It's sort of what happened to Ray Davies, only on a vaster scale, and it's all I could think about during the first 4 songs of Vampire Weekend's set.

Their wikipedia entry will tell you that they're influenced by African Music and Classical, and maybe that's true, but as I watched the show I didn't think about Schubert and crappy World Fusion, I though about bands like Pulp, Aztec Camera, Cleaners From Venus and A Certain Ratio. I ultimately came to the conclusion that they're influenced by African and Classical music in the same way British Bands from the 80s and early 90s were. I felt like I was watching Britpop. Not a particular band mind you, but the genre itself (minus oasis), which I still greatly admire, and admittedly enjoyed having those buttons pushed. As a result, it's entirely likely that I'll be seeing Vampire Weekend on my own dime the next time they come to town.

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I encourage you to check out Vampire Weekend's Myspace page or official site and judge for yourself.

Footnotes (as promised!):

* But I'm going with "was".
** And no, exceptions do NOT negate the reality. One or two rare cross-ocean success stories isn't a new British invasion.
*** Seriously, isn't it weird that bands who play sellout capacity shows here can't pack a club in Dallas? What the hell, America?