Vacationing in Hawaii can sometimes be so boring: long troubled expeditions across white sandy beaches, afternoon jaunts through clear blue water, snorkeling through squid, sea turtles and various other Southern Pacific aquatic life. It can be a real burden. What a stroke of luck then, when at the height of this unsurpassed feeling of boredom, that one should find one of, if not the biggest buzz bands in the indie world playing in the very city of said vacation. What is one to do?
As any good small time journalist, looking for more credibility and a larger array of samples might (and should) do, one might pack up his effects and start heading down the Likelike Highway, from the windward side of Oahu into Honolulu. This night in particular started off with a bit of rain on the long drive, but with any luck the truth would soon be found out with regards to A) whether or not the boys from Vampire Weekend know how to deliver on hype and B) just what the locals do for fun around here besides surf, hang loose and sell shrimp on the side of the road.
Right away the Pipeline Cafe stood out as any typical venue from the outside, quite larger than its humble name might suggest (and also a little confusing geographically speaking - the famous Pipeline surf spot is on the exact opposite side of the island), but upon entering you'll come to find a variety of rooms ripe for lounging. On the basis of first looks, it is very apparent that Hawaiians take the term "Hang Loose" to heart. The main room with the stage itself was deep and narrow, a moderately sized rectangle slowly filling with true Islanders and starch-shirted, deck shoe-wearing mainlanders alike.
Not more than fifteen minutes after we'd arrived a seemingly drunken local radio DJ hopped on the mic and slurred excitement at the crowd, who were eager to oblige, and moments later Vampire Weekend took the stage. Immediately I was surprised by the enthusiasm they possessed. Sure to be a little jet-lagged by the time difference (6 hrs from NYC), it showed not as they busted into "Mansard Roof" and "Campus" with a blind fury that betrayed the light aesthetic of their bright melodies.
"People say our music lends itself well to the beach. We didn't have that in mind, but it doesn't hurt," Koenig mused as they broke into their own island-themed track, "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa." An album favorite for many, it seemed to be slightly lacking at first given the absence of the string quartet that accompanies most of the album. Keyboardist Rotsam Batmanglij did his best to fill in with keyboard arrangements, but the playful feeling of the album was almost lost without the exuberance of the strings. That's not to say the audience was left unsatisfied, for I would never have thought I'd see a crowd so physically enthusiastic about Vampire Weekend. There's just something about this preppy pop that, to me, doesn't lend itself to crowd surfing, but we are in Hawaii. Where else if not here?
Overall, the Honoluluans exhibited an incredible liveliness that I've rarely seen of late on the mainland and there were many a time when front man Ezra Koenig pandered to their enthusiasm with speak of this Hawaiian gig being their first such energetic show in "weeks if not months" thanks in large part to all the "party kids."
Koenig himself did his part to egg them on, comfortably embodying his spotlighted position and emphasizing his lyrics with pointed enthusiasm. It was he that began the courting process and the rest of the Weekend that won us over. Bassist Chris Baio's giddy if not erratic jumping back and forth stood in stark contrast to Batmanglij's hunched stance, lording over his keys (ala Viv Savage). And when Chris Tomson managed to bust his floor tom near the beginning of the show, no one cared. If anything, the instrument's malfunction only urged the crowd into further frenzy.
After highlights "A-Punk" and "Ladies Of Cambridge" and an encore comprised simply of "Oxford Comma," the boys sent out heartfelt thanks and a few sincere apologies. "We'd play more songs if we knew some," they spoke, showing off their sweat-stained polo's.
Then, as sure as the day dawns Monday morning, the quartet was off, leaving the crowd in much the same way their debut album did: wanting. But this was no negative feeling for there was satisfaction abound as the crowd piled out of Pipeline, with highlights such as "M79," "I Stand Corrected" and a "Blake's Got A New Face" (complete with call & response introductions) still bouncing around the collective conscious. There also popped up recent live debuts, the two new tracks "White Sky" and "Little Giant," the former showcasing a bit more of an electronic feel and the latter benefiting from the vein of "A-Punk" and "Ladies Of Cambridge" - straight forward, Clash-inspired, island/punk.
The long drive back up the Likelike Highway to the house was filled with reminiscing. Those at first concerned with how the boys from the Empire State would translate live were all won over with the light-hearted simplicity of the music and the playful quirkiness of the foursome, and despite an initial awkwardness felt with this new crowd, there is now confidence in knowing that it's okay to engage in a little crowd-surfing in Hawaii... even for Vampire Weekend.