It’s not quite a reboot or a reset, but Vampire Weekend is in the midst of an aesthetic renaissance. Gone are the days of the Ezra Koenig-led band whose members bore a reputation as pretentious, preppy indie-rockers.
Well, maybe those days aren't entirely gone. But there’s no denying the band that released Father of the Bride earlier this year is drastically different from the one that rose to prominence singing about Cape Cod and grammatical anomalies in 2008.
More than a decade into its career, Vampire Weekend is six years removed from the dense, complex triumph of Modern Vampires of the City, the group’s last record to feature multi-instrumentalist and producer Rostam Batmanglij as an official member. Now, following a lengthy hiatus, the bandmates once derided as self-important Ivy Leaguers have made a transition into a markedly different era.
Though the musicians’ preppy clothes and their detractors’ preconceived notions have remained relatively intact, Koenig is leading the group through a calculated transformation into the millennial answer to the Grateful Dead.
In the live setting, Vampire Weekend is more adventuresome than ever. There's been an increased emphasis on variation in set lists, improvisational jams, and inclusion of offbeat covers, and the group has even begun taking requests from fans, leading to much more spontaneous shows.
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Take, for instance, "Sunflower," the catchy, charming single featuring contributions from the Internet’s Steve Lacy. It’s perhaps the biggest earworm the band has released in more than a decade and clocks in at just over two minutes on the record. In concert, however, the track can balloon closer to ten minutes and spirals off into a hard-rock jam that would make '80s metal bands proud.
This new ambiance around the band began during the leadup to Father of the Bride, a looser, more playful LP than the band’s previous work. Taking a step away from the density of Modern Vampires in favor of a more free-spirited approach, Father maintains the vibrant spirit of the group’s 2008 self-titled debut.
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Put simply, it seems the band is having way more fun than ever.
This reinvented Vampire Weekend doesn’t shy away from uninhibited silliness, from selling a T-shirt bearing all of the band's other T-shirt designs to occasionally performing Bob Dylan's "Jokerman" in homage to Koenig’s comic obsession with the terrible font of the same name. The band is also making a point of taking requests from fans who show up wearing bucket hats.
This much is certain: When Vampire Weekend takes the stage at the James L. Knight Center August 24, fans can expect an experience far different from the one the band provided during its two-night run at the Fillmore Miami Beach in 2014. If you plan to attend, don’t forget your bucket hat.