Sunday, September 19, 2010

Beach House & Vampire Weekend @ Radio City Sept. 17th

Radio City is one of the great music venues. It does have seats, which of course limits movement during the show but it should be on everyone’s concert bucket list for the acoustics alone. I knew a friend had bought tickets to the Vampire Weekend concert months ago and hinted that I could go along for months until the call came. With Beach House opening up, it made for a fun evening of two strong bands that I happily listen to though usually a few songs is enough, rather than an entire album.

I was sent the video for "A Punk" before Vampire Weekend burst on the scene just two years ago. It was one of those wonderful musical moments full with the sheer joy of connecting to a band. I just had to learn more. Even if it wasn’t a totally new sound it definitely was presented in a fun and fresh way plus the fact that they’re adorably cute didn’t hinder the process. This plucky group of Columbia students had a following even before they left college. Their literary lyrics are unabashedly full of references to New York living along with summer vacations in Cape Cod.

The dream pop duo Beach House didn’t seem like the best choice to rev up the place before going on, but their carefully constructed stage set had them huddled together in the front which made for a nice juxtaposition to the party scene that followed. (The Dum Dum Girls were first on the bill but we did not arrive in time for their take on the classic girl group sound.) Beach House played as a four piece next to large cone sculptures that created an arty backdrop to their ethereal songs. During their best known song, “Norway,” small white lights cascaded down like snowflakes adding to the atmospheric landscape. With the crowd still filtering in, the band provided more dynamics in their live show that's found on their recordings and impressed many although a smaller venue might be a better fit.

Vampire Weekend hit the wide open stage with a few heavy chandeliers similar to the one on the cover of their first self-titled CD, finding their instruments to launch into “Holiday” off the new album Contra. (Incidentally the album art has become the subject of a lawsuit with the cover girl trying to collect on it, the story goes she didn’t even know about it.) The light show was certainly impressive, with bursts of color lines and bursts of white circles similar to fireworks. A few songs in frontman Ezra Koenig shouted gamely, “What’s Up New York?” He quickly began strumming the opening riff of “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” and the band followed into another tightly knit group of songs. The four members basically stuck to their positions and the business at hand -- to replicate the songs for the fans. Unfortunately, there was no live string section to fill in the parts: the synths did the trick but having more action on stage would have heated things up nicely. A huge circular design on the wall behind the band, also found on T-shirts in the lobby, just seemed to dwarf the band.

The encore began with “Horchata” and continued with another string of hits. There was a clap-a-long and a call to wiggle fingers for audience participation, as most people ignored the entreaty not to the let the place intimidate them. But there was plenty of singing along and bursts of applause from the happy crowd. Koenig admitted that playing three nights at Radio City was “amazing” but he wasn’t sure when they’d play New York next, maybe after the next album. The band ended appropriately with a song about leaving though it's about the other home base, “Walcott” with the line about getting “out of Cape Cod tonight.”