With a venue packed from the front-row pit to the grassy lawns, the alternative band Vampire Weekend delivered a set that drew on nearly all of their decade-long discography. The alternative band continued its Father of the Bride Tour Aug. 29 at the Merriweather Post Pavilion, an amphitheater located in Columbia, Md.
Despite vocals that felt too safe and reserved for the huge pavilion, witnessing Vampire Weekend’s intricate production and lyrical cleverness live still made the show a memorable experience.
The concert opened with Christone “Kingfish” Ingram, a blues guitarist and singer who managed to draw the crowd’s attention, even during the initial rush of concertgoers pouring in and buying food and drinks to start their night.
Ingram did not move much around the stage, but his undeniable talent on the guitar still let him control the stage. The venue’s three massive screens mounted to the pavilion overhead also helped Ingram by zooming in on his hands flitting across his guitar, putting the focus entirely on his mastery of the instrument.
About a half-hour after Ingram finished his set, Vampire Weekend leader Ezra Koenig and his touring band walked out onto the stage. Behind them, a large globe designed in the same style as the album art for “Father of the Bride” hung from the rafters encircled by lights.
Koenig, wearing an orange corduroy shirt with baggy brown pants, exuded the confidence present on his albums even when just standing at the microphone. With a coy smile, he greeted the audience and started the first song of the night, “Sunflower.”
Throughout the whole concert, the technically impressive and expressive music at times felt at odds with Koenig’s restrained singing. The music managed to fill the entire venue, but Koenig’s lack of enthusiasm made the sheer size of the amphitheater more apparent.
During the songs that were supposed to be more relaxed and capitalize on Vampire Weekend’s effortless and infectious self-assuredness like “Mansard Roof” and “Horchata,” Koenig’s cool vocals worked well. His nonchalant attitude played into and built off his curated aesthetic of disinterest that especially fueled his early music.
However, when it came to songs with a quicker tempo like “Unbelievers,” Koenig failed to shift his own voice to match the energy of his other songs. His calm way of singing his lyrics that worked so well sounded insufficient when paired with the rapid beat of other songs.
Despite the fact that Koenig’s vocals disappointed, several other songs featured extended interludes, shining a spotlight on the tour band and highlighting Koenig’s musical ability.
Instead of studio collaborator Steve Lacy, Koenig shared the stage with guitarist Brian Robert Jones for nearly the entire concert, who built off Koenig and added to each riff. From the start, the pair created an electric chemistry that radiated with each strum of the guitar.
In “Jerusalem, New York, Berlin,” the closing interlude lasted almost as long as the song itself, putting the music center stage and letting the constant thumping of the low bass reverberate through the crowd.
Similarly, backing vocalist and guitarist Greta Morgan took the place of Danielle Haim on songs like “Hold You Now,” and Koenig excelled when he had another person’s voice and energy to collaborate with.
The show’s shining moments happened during the encore. As Koenig and his band stepped back out onto the stage, flags featuring the various illustrations used for the album’s singles and promotion descended and the globe began to slowly rotate.
For the final portion of the show, Koenig requested the lights to shine on the crowd in the front pit and announced, “Now is when we’ll start taking audience requests.”
After scanning the audience for the fan that would get to request the next song, he finally pointed out a girl in a Cape Cod bucket hat and custom earrings of the snake on the single artwork of “Harmony Hall.” She requested “Hannah Hunt,” a song from Vampire Weekend’s third album “Modern Vampires of the City.”
The song offered Koenig the perfect opportunity to prove his vocal strength with its buildup to the transcendent final chorus. He delivered a strong performance that both made up for his earlier reservation and made the earlier, more muted vocals visible.
While Koenig showed that he and his band can perform complex and engaging music, the interplay between emotion and indifference that usually makes his studio recordings so compelling failed to translate on the stage for an audience in such a huge music venue.