It's extremely difficult to write about a band that does everything right, as Vampire Weekend did last night at Chaifetz Arena. Even the band's ghastly novelty songs about punctuation and chateau roofs were hard to dislike. (Save for "Horchata," which, frankly, was impossible to like. The crowd, which unanimously loved the shit out of that song, will surely disagree with me here.) There was nary a misstep in their 75-minute set, which was arranged just so for maximum energy from the crowd.
Everything about Vampire Weekend is deliberate, but their equation is a winning one. Despite getting sued for the photo on the cover of Contra, which was allegedly used without permission; despite being dubbed the "whitest band" by the foremost authority on all things cracker, Christian Lander of Stuff White People Like; despite being Carles' whipping boy-band of choice on Hipsterrunnoff; they have the formula, and now they're just raking it in. They refer to their sound as "Upper East Side Soweto" (ugh) but it's a disinctly premeditated fusion of Talking Heads' new-wave/Barenaked Ladies (forgive me) nerd-out, plus some ska and classical tossed in for extra credit. It sounds like a lot, but it never strays from the combination that's made them famous: surfy and Afropop-inspired, with an unmistakable smack of collegiate pretension.
The Very Best, the project fronted by Malawi-born singer Esau Mwamwaya, opened. He impressed with his intelligent blend of mixtape-ery and lyrics sung in his native Chichewa. Mwamwaya started the Very Best in 2008 with producers Radioclit, after selling Etienne Tron a used bike in London, and he's since collaborated with the likes of M.I.A., Yeasayer and Architecture in Helsinki. Unlike the latest glut of artists practicing the remixology of their indie forebears, Mwamwaya's voice and style could stand up alone, without the long list of Pitchfork-approved collabs. His sunny style and kwaito beats lent themselves to the equally sunny and Afropop cribbing of Vampire Weekend.
Beach House was up next. The band took the stage in front of three light pyramids, a decidedly modern set design that was initially surprising, given the yellowed-hued organ and cobweb-covered guitar lines. "This is our arena rock debut," was their simple introduction. "Anyone happen to be at that food court last year?" Alex Scally said, referring to the band's 2009 St. Louis debut at the Billiken Club. The prismatic opening bars of "Norway" and "Zebra" garnered the most applause, and the sparkling light wall jived perfectly with the glittery song.
Devotion is all broken chandeliers in a bombed-out mansion that's stood silent for decades, and while 2010's Teen Dream has the same penchant for heartsick slowcore, it held up to the arena test better than their earlier stuff would have. "Gila" was the lone cut from Devotion, and they seemed to think overdoing it on the bass drum was the only way to translate those submerged riddims in such a massive space. It boomed in bottom heavy, but still spectacular. "Silver Soul" screamed for a slow dance.
"Who's played sports in this place?" they asked. "Everybody pretend like they're playing sports. Sports." Victoria shot an air basket and gave herself "three points."
Scally asked, "Anyone hear that amazing sound?" and Victoria answered, "Cheese-grater." They said the Billiken Club show was meaningful for "secret reasons," and they'll always have a soft spot for St. Louis.
"Take Care" was so moving, it caused the man sitting next to me to mirror the bass drum with his foot. This was a guy who was stone cold throughout the two opening sets; the kind of guy who probably regularly uses words like "circuit training," the guy you'd ask to kindly lift a car off you if you happened to find yourself underneath one. If Beach House can move that guy, they're doing something very right. They closed with a galloping rendition of "10 Mile Stereo;" Scally's airy guitar soaring to the firmament and Victoria's voice eclipsing the sun.