Live Review: Vampire Weekend @ Islington Assembly Hall

Stephen Ong praises Vampire Weekend's live show as they turn Islington Assembly Hall into 'Harmony Hall'

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In anticipation of their upcoming album Father of the Bride, Vampire Weekend played ‘Three Little London Shows’, and my friend and I were two of 800 lucky people who waited in London’s Islington Assembly Hall to see one of indie music’s most influential bands. Glorified rehearsals they may have been, but they gave the opportunity for fans to interact with the band in an intimate setting, while the band themselves were cheerful and raring to go.

This was Vampire Weekend’s first non-festival return to Britain for nearly 6 years, featuring both a new lineup and style with guitarist Brian Robert Jones, multi-instrumentalist Greta Morgan, pianist Will Canzoneri and drummer Garrett Ray filling in for Rostam Batmanglij, who left the band in 2016 to pursue his solo career. As a result, the songs were longer, looser, and more surprising.

The band opened with their new single ‘Sunflower’; though an upbeat, poppy, unmistakeably Vampire Weekend song in the studio, it transformed into a monster on the stage. Its extended guitar riff gave way to an intense psychedelic rock jam, which Brian Robert Jones’ infectious energy carried, and its message was clear: this is a new Vampire Weekend.

the songs were longer, looser, and more surprising

For the next 90 minutes, the band blazed through hit after hit, with fan favourites like ‘Ottoman’ and ‘M79’ slotted between, and an incredible funk rock rendition of Ezra Koenig’s collaboration with SBTRKT, ‘New Dorp. New York’. Frontman Koenig began to get chattier as the show went on, going from thanking the fans to pointing out the coincidentally named twentytwentyone store right next to the venue. ‘2021’ itself was a humorous affair as people began to sit on each other’s shoulders, while Koenig sang the song through a talkbox, admitting they were still trying to figure out how to play the song live.

However, the highlight of the concert was easily the last few songs, as they closed the main set with a moving performance of the deep cut ‘I Think Ur A Contra’. When they returned for an encore, an audience member shouted for the band to play ‘Diplomat’s Son’. Koenig replied that they hadn’t reworked the song for their tour and that it didn’t allow for the band to jam, but eventually relented to the crowd. The band asked everyone to chant the beat of the song, but we were singing the words back passionately once the vocals came in. Koenig even sang Batmanglij’s part of the bridge, before interpolating The Clash’s ‘Pressure Drop’ midway through ‘Diplomat’s Son’. Vampire Weekend then finished the gig with a cover of Bruce Springsteen’s ‘I’m Goin’ Down’, which they had not played in ten years, and as is tradition, ‘Walcott’.

Vampire Weekend have transformed themselves into an unpredictable, engaging live act

Seeing Vampire Weekend at such an intimate concert was a magical, once in a lifetime experience, and their energy and confidence was unparalleled. Vampire Weekend have transformed themselves into an unpredictable, engaging live act with the will to experiment, and I can guarantee they will display these qualities no matter the size of the venue. Despite my disappointment upon first hearing ‘Harmony Hall’, seeing the band perform allowed me to fully appreciate their new style – Father of the Bride remains my most anticipated album of the year.

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