It took five years for Vampire Weekend to return to Houston – a fact that lead singer Ezra Koenig acknowledged and apologized for to the sold-out crowd, stating that the now seven-piece touring group needs to stop by Texas’ largest city more often.
But then again, it’s been even longer since the band released their previous album, Grammy-winning Modern Vampires of the City, back in 2013. With the departure of one of the band’s founding members, multi-instrumentalist and prominent producer Rostam Batmangli, as well as the addition of four backing artists and one brand new album with Father of the Bride later, Vampire Weekend wasn’t the same band since they last visited Houston.
However, Houston hasn’t been the same city since Vampire Weekend last visited either – White Oak Music Hall, the evening’s performance venue, wasn’t even constructed yet, and the Houston festival that the band last appeared in, Free Press Summer Fest, hasn’t been in the city since the ill-fated In Bloom Music Festival rebranding in 2017.
Despite the new band, album, and venue, the Ivy-educated trio and their backing musicians brought the same upbeat and precise musicality that makes the band stand out from the rest of the music industry, with Koenig bringing the same charming stage presence that fans have swooned over for over a decade – all while adding a fuller sound to the band (adding another drum set with a full percussion set, two keyboardists, and an electrifying guitarist to the lineup) to showcase Father of the Bride to its fullest extent.
Despite the fact that the biggest form of diversity in the audience was the varying flavors of White Claw in the crowd’s hands, the decade-spanning setlist offered a diverse variety of sounds from baroque pop hits to Latin rooted melodies.
Supported by the remarkably talented blues artist, Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, Vampire Weekend’s Houston stop featured a 26 song setlist as they opened with the harmoniously calming “Flower Moon,” having fans singing “gonna take a year” (despite the fact that it takes a bit more than that to see the band live).
The performance featured 10 songs from FotB, 5 from MVotC, 5 from Contra, 3 from their debut self-titled album, and 3 miscellaneous songs.
Among the 3 miscellaneous songs was a cover of Bruce “The Boss” Springsteen’s “Im Goin’ Down,” the Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist sleeper hit “Ottoman,” and the debut live performance of a bonus track from the Japanese version of FotB, “Houston, Dubai,” with Koenig introducing the song with:
“You know, it’s a song about somebody who has to go back and forth between Houston and Dubai a lot, so we thought we’re not playing in Dubai anytime soon, so we might as well play it in Houston.”
There wasn’t a song in the first part of the concert that went without a massive cheer immediately following the first few notes, serving as a testament to the fansmany passionate in the audience. With tracks like the social commentary sing-along “Unbelievers,” Peter Gabriel-referencing “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa,” and the groovacious guitar riffs of “Sunflower,” audiences knew they were in for a treat right off the bat.
The entire band was tight – as intentional, calculated, and methodic as you’d expect from a band with roots in Columbia University. The perfectly in-sync rhythms were on full display during upbeat indie rock staples “Cousins” and “A-Punk” as they were played back to back.
Vampire Weekend’s seemingly strict adherence to the album version of their music was showcased in songs like the double-entendred “Diane Young,” with Koenig’s pitch shifted vocals matching that of the version that appeared on MVotC.
Closing out the regular set with the final track on FotB, “Jerusalem, New York, Berlin,” fans were left begging for more.
Never a band to stray away from fan expectations (or at least during live performances), the musicians returned one by one as they led into their latest album’s “How Long?” before taking an audience request to play “Ottoman” in a reprisal of Peter Gabriel’s likeness, and ending the evening with “Worship You” and “Ya Hey.”
Vampire Weekend is a brilliant band whose song lyrics can go over your head even after your 10th listen, featuring crisp and concise vocals from a man that could croon about literally anything, a ground-thumping bassist laying down the support for the entire band and their lengthy repertoire, a consistently timed drummer that still finds quality embellishments to throw into an already perfected track, and a brand-new ensemble of talented musicians – all coming together to make Vampire Weekend’s return to Houston at the White Oak Music Hall Lawn a historic evening.