Vampire Weekend, EartH

IMG_1614London, Thursday March 21, 2019

Apparently this is Vampire Weekend’s first gig in London since 2013, and this evening’s ‘welcome back’ committee is comprised of the about 800 lucky people who managed to get a ticket before it sold out. 

Singer Ezra Koenig himself describes tonight’s gathering as a bit of an ‘attended rehearsal’. But Koenig’s socks-and-sandals aside, it certainly feels like a proper gig. EartH is an old cinema and the last time I was here it was so cold that I promised myself never to return to this venue between October and April. So, here I am back in March but luckily today is milder than last time and it doesn’t feel cold this time.

There’s no support band and at 20:30 the weekend-only vampires casually – very casually – stroll on stage to excited applause. First song is Harmony Hall, one of the new songs from their upcoming album, Father of the Bride. Apart from the evocative title, Harmony Hall, is also a very uplifting piece of music in which Koenig assures us all, ‘I don’t want to die’. Well, seeing how he and his bandmates seem to enjoy themselves playing their music, I don’t think anyone would think otherwise.

IMG_1604

Another new song, 2021, is played twice – this is an ‘attended rehearsal’ after all. The first version is short and simple, and the second longer and more experimental. Koenig uses a talk box and though it’s an effect that can enhance a song, I must admit I don’t much see the point of it in this particular case. But it’s probably a lot of fun to play.

Most of the set though, is made up of crowd-favourites; Holiday and Unbelievers are the second and third song respectively, and that’s as good a beginning to a concert as can be expected, and sets the tone for the rest of the evening. 

Vampire Weekend sometimes jump straight into that great big net of ‘cultural appropriation’ that you can so easily get entangled in, and that some people are more bothered with than others. Me personally, I don’t mind, but I do know it’s the reason why some people don’t like them. Being inspired by music from cultures ‘different than yours’ is not a crime, and if you can pull it off, then why not? As far as I’m concerned, it’s fine that a non-Italian cooks spaghetti, a Westener eats sushi, a Brazilian plays in a Rolling Stones cover-band, a German tries to play piano like Thelonious Monk, or a Greek person prefers watching The Simpsons over reading Greek mythology. ‘Cultural appropriation’ is really just the art of being open and curious – and why not? Songs like White Sky and Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa are deeply rooted on African soil, far away from these American white-bred East-coast-preppy-boys. But maybe that’s part of the charm of the songs; positioning yourself musically far away from your assigned parking zone and somehow making it part of your comfort zone. 

The last four songs before the band leave the stage for the first time, are a relentless attack on the ecstatic crowd who dance and sing along to Diane Young, Cousins, A-Punk and Oxford Comma.

IMG_1620

Bass player Chris Baio is refreshingly unconcerned with being cool and dances and gyrates around, quite honestly sometimes giving the impression he is so in love with his bass he wants to hump it. And who are we to judge, as long as he keeps the engine of the songs going and enjoys himself.

Like all musicians who can play well, the musicians in Vampire Weekend are prone to slightly longer solos than what might actually suit the songs and some songs do turn into more of a jam session at times, which I’m sure is fun to play but less fun to listen to. Vampire Weekend is at their best when they keep the songs short and to the point. 

IMG_1661

The encore consists of six songs, three of which are requests from the audience, M79 from their debut album (2008), and Finger Back, Everlasting Arms, from their most recent album Modern Vampires of the City (2013). The last two songs of the concert are also from Modern Vampires of the City, the fast, pumping, triumphant Worship You, followed by the slow, melancholic Ya Hey, a song about having, sometimes questioning, and perhaps even losing faith. But agnostics and atheists can also take away from this song a perfect summary of most of our lives in this post-modern world: ‘In the dark of this place, There’s the glow of your face, There’s the dust on the screen, Of this broken machine, And I can’t help but feel, That I’ve made some mistake, But I let it go, Ya Hey’.

And that’s what this concert was a good reminder of, the importance of letting go.

Vampire Weekend setlist
1. Harmony Hall (new song)
2. Holiday
3. Unbelievers
4. Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa
5. White Sky
6. Sunflower (new song)
7. Step
8. 2021 (new song, album version)
9. 2021 (new song, piano version)
10. Horchata
11. New Drop. New York (SBTRKT w. Ezra Koenig cover)
12. Hannah Hunt
13. Diane Young
14. Cousins
15. A-Punk
16. Oxford Comma
Encore
17. Big Blue (new song)
18. Finger Back (request from audience)
19. Everlasting Arms (request from audience
20. M79 (request from audience)
21. Worship You
22. Ya Hey

Marlon Williams & Ryan Downey, EartH (Hackney Arts Centre)

IMG_8932
London, October 30, 2018

EartH (formerly Hackney Arts Centre) feels more like an old warehouse than what it really used to be, an art deco cinema called The Savoy which opened in 1938. The space seems bigger than your usual cinema or theatre because the area behind the stage isn’t hidden behind walls or curtains. Instead it’s just a big empty space, save for a handful of huge white projectors that kind of looks like discarded prototypes of legendary Star Wars-robot R2D2.

It’s a beautiful, though slightly odd room. The walls with peeling paint are at odds with the ceiling with its intricate decorations, and the stage itself is really just a bare platform and nothing else. Though it’s an indoor venue, the audience may just as well have been outside, because on this autumn evening, the room is freezing cold. There seems to be no heating or if there is, it’s a room that refuses to warm to the around 1,000 visitors who have made their way here tonight, to see New Zealand singer-songwriter, Marlon Williams. 

IMG_8892Ryan Downey

Supporting Williams is Australian singer-songwriter, Ryan Downey, who has a captivating deep honey voice singing heartfelt lyrics with a generous dash of deadpan observations like on Running: ‘…It’s getting sunny, I’ll be tanned and I’ll be charmed, I’ll be breathless in your arms, from all that running.’ Unfortunately, the coldness of the big room is a jarring contrast to the warmth of Downey’s voice and I can’t enjoy his set quite as much as I suspect I would have if I hadn’t been freezing to the bone.

IMG_8898Marlon Williams

The wait between support- and main-act is a cold affair and it’s relief when the slender Williams saunters on to the stage dressed in black apart from a light grey jacket. He tells the crowd ‘Happy Halloween, how we going everybody?’ before launching into the first song of the evening, a beautiful cover of folk-classic by Ewan MacColl, The First Time I Saw Your Face. Straight up we get a taste of his exceptional voice and an example of why it has been compared to Roy Orbison’s. The second song, Lonely Side of Her, is slightly slowed down, a bit darker and less ‘chirpy’ than the recorded version on Williams’ debut album, which really suits the song.

IMG_8903

Then Williams’ band, The Yarra Benders, join him on the stage. Adding drums, bass, keyboards and backing vocals to his songs obviously add more flesh to the songs and frees Williams up to fool around a bit more (which he does, swaggering, boogieing around in some of the more uptempo songs), but I think he shines brightest when he sings the slower songs on his own. 

IMG_8926

The set is comprised of songs from his two albums as well as stand alone single, Vampire Again, and a few cover songs in the folky or bluesy vein – and just like he began the concert with a cover, the concert ends with another cover, Screaming Jay Hawkins’ Portrait of a Man, where Williams show off his superb screaming and howling skills. As the final song ends and we make our way out in the cold evening I’m reminded of how frozen I am, something I’d forgotten about halfway through the concert. Maybe it was the heartwarming songs burning through from the inside, keeping us warm for a while.

Ryan Downey setlist
Not available

Marlon Williams setlist
Not available