Vampire Weekend has grown up in the six years since we last heard from them. Frontman Ezra Koenig was still in his 20s at that point, still an optimist with an eye and ear for concision. The band — which also featured bassist Chris Baio, multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij and drummer Chris Tomson — burst onto the scene with their 2008 self-titled debut, a supremely catchy and wry record that employed elements of Punk, African music, Art Pop and, notably, Paul Simon.
Ahead of the group’s 2008 visit to Cincinnati’s Gypsy Hut (now Northside Yacht Club), CityBeat’s Brian Baker spoke with Baio about how Vampire Weekend emerged fully formed from the start.
"We decided to get a band together that would play with Rock instruments but wouldn't sound like a Rock band," Baio said. "Our first show, we played 'Walcott,' I Stand Corrected' and 'Oxford Comma,' and 'Oxford Comma' is pretty identical on the record to how we played it on the first show. We definitely came with ideas that we still use."
The self-titled debut’s follow-up, 2010’s Contra, refined the band’s sound further, and the tour in support of it confirmed that these admittedly preppy Ivy Leaguers were the real deal — the songs, so confident and expertly formed, helped the group move from clubs to massive venues without breaking a sweat.
By the time of 2013’s Modern Vampires of the City, none other than Robert Christgau was dropping Sgt. Pepper references, writing with typical insight, “Each verse/chorus/bridge/intro melody, each lyric straight or knotty, each sound effect playful or perverse (or both) — each is pleasurable in itself and aptly situated in the sturdy songs and tracks, so that the whole signifies without a hint of concept.”
It’s been six years since then and a lot has changed. Batmanglij, a studio guru who was more essential to the band’s sound than some might have thought, left Vampire Weekend in 2016, which left Koenig free to scratch his artistic itch, no matter how messy and sprawling the result might be on the band’s long-gestating new record, Father of the Bride.
“It feels right that our fourth album is not 10, 11 songs,” Koenig said recently on his Beats 1 show, Time Crisis. “It felt like it needed more room. After six years gone, it’s a bigger statement.”
Sure enough, Father of the Bride is all over the place —18 songs in nearly an hour. There’s even a Sinatra-esque Jazz standard and duets with Haim’s Danielle Haim. Sure, the old concision might have been more prudent. But even the ever-chipper Koenig is impacted by the chaotic times in which we live. From “Harmony Hall,” the album’s lead single, which employs all the old tricks and more: “I don’t want to live like this/But I don’t want to die.”
Vampire Weekend returns to Cincinnati this weekend, but you'll have to pay much more than the $10 tickets cost for their 2008 show. The band's show at PNC Pavilion Saturday sold out weeks ago, so you'll have to take your chances on the secondary ticket market if you want to go.