Tuesday, September 29, 2020

Whose Torch Will Vampire Weekend Carry?

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Adam Chmielewski
Adam Chmielewski is the latest Mid-Western transplant to take up residence in the City Of Angels. Aside from contributing to Nerdbot, he’s writing screenplays for film and television. Just like everyone else in Los Angeles.

Get ready indie-rock music snobs (myself included)… 2019 is going to be the year that our beloved darling of non-mainstream ska pop bliss called Vampire Weekend will chart a course to soon be the biggest band in the world.

Yes, the days of you and only a couple of your cool friends knowing about Vampire Weekend are gone. Personally I’m surprised because I knew they were good, I just didn’t think they’d get this good. The difference between their self titled debut and Father Of The Bride is astronomical. It’s almost two different bands except for the fact that under all the production quality of their most recent achievement, you can still hear the uptempo, ska, worldly, pop, or whatever you’d label it that captured our hearts. And now it seems like everyone’s a fan.

Speaking of the sound… do you consider Vampire Weekend to be avant-garde? I kinda have to say they are. Maybe not as avant-garde an act as Tv On The Radio but honestly I struggle when trying to find to a formidable comparison. Sure they sound like pieces of about ten different bands, yet I couldn’t tell you of an artist who is simply just Vampire Weekend with an additional bass player or something. So I guess that qualifies them as avant-garde in the implied originality of substance associated with the term.

Anyway I had to put that out there because I never thought I’d ever view Vampire Weekend as an avant-garde act. As far as sustaining a career in the music industry, the evolution of their sound has garnered a whole new fan base for the band. I saw them in concert (Jacobs Pavilion, Cleveland) a couple weeks ago and not only did they play to a sold out, four thousand seat venue. Everyone there was completely engaged for the entire two hour and fifteen minute performance.

They must have played 75% of their entire catalogue but they kept it going for the length of a shorter Paul Thomas Anderson film. Vampire Weekend added a couple people to the on stage ensemble which brought the news songs to life well while nicely complimenting deep cuts like “Ladies Of Cambridge” and “Ottoman”. Yes, VW has deep cuts. The sound was infinitely fuller, almost too big for the venue. This combined energy of the band and the audience made for a memorable show from a group on the verge of doing something truly special.

What surprised me even further about this freshly made over Vampire Weekend is the fact that they kind of jam out on a couple of their songs. Which I saw the early incarnation of at show at Cleveland’s House Of Blues in 2012. I’m assuming between then and now adding these sprinklings of improvisation during the live shows have been a common thing. You couple it with recent interviews and articles connecting Vampire Weekend to infamous jam band Phish.

In a 2019 piece Pitchfork Ezra Koenig briefly talks about being a fan of Phish and the Grateful Dead, and also how people have referenced the two groups when discussing Father Of The Bride. When I read about this, personally, I was surprised. For starters, the jam community is super hard for the concept of torch passing. Though there was no actual ceremony, the front runners for the scene switched from the Grateful Dead to Phish in the mid-90’s following Jerry Garcia’s death in 1995. The remaining members of the Dead are still touring but Phish is the undisputed major draw of the jam scene.

And even though Phish is still playing to twenty thousand plus each show, there’s an early movement to jumpstart a following for their replacement. It’s an entirely separate article but names ranging from Umphrey’s McGee to Wilco, have been put on a pedestal at one point as an heir to Phish’s crown. Yes, there is a caption in a picture in a Relix magazine article from 2008, 2009 that mentions Wilco and Phish in the same sentence. Now Vampire Weekend’s name has been added to the mix.

My initial response to this is the media is getting everything dead wrong. Phish isn’t even the new Grateful Dead, they are Phish, a band that also jams. Father Of The Bride may have thirty seconds of Phish-esque material but in now way shape or form do I hear a “Phish influence” upon the album. FOTB is actually more of a Dirty Projectors gone mainstream record that just happened to be made by Vampire Weekend. And it’s pretty good.

Honestly I believe people are a little too eager to find the next Phish, which if we’re being realistic, will grow organically from the jam scene. An indie rock with crossover potential won’t be the next big thing in the world of fifteen minutes songs. Vampire Weekend will always be Vampire Weekend and just because a hippie goes to one of their shows, or if they add an extra five minutes to a song live, doesn’t make them a contender to headline the Lockn’ Festival.

However for those who are convinced Vampire Weekend is the new Phish I’ll drop one interesting observation on you. But first I’ll say that in the jam scene, some groups play weekend runs of concerts spanning anywhere from two to four days. During these shows the band will sometimes start playing a song one night then finish it in another night. I believe Vampire Weekend is doing a similar thing through their albums.

The phrase “I don’t want to live like this, but I don’t want to die” has appeared in two tracks so far. “Finger Back” and “Harmony Hall”. My theory is that we are seeing the first two installments of an ongoing track that will span the course of VW’s time making music. It’s the most jam band thing they could possibly do.

But since we’re here, who do I think Vampire Weekend is the next “new” insert popular band here? Some of you may hate me, but the closest thing in the jam community to Vampire Weekend is O.A.R.. That’s right readers, get ready light your torches and grab your pitchforks. But before you do, think about it…

Both groups started out very raw, minimal production, just bands playing their instruments. Garnered an avid following of mostly young, college age fans. By their third records, fuller sounds were embraced with the follow ups getting the most media attention of each band’s careers to date. Generally the music itself is positive and if it comes on at a party, there will be people who know the words to the songs. O.A.R. grew up just like Vampire Weekend and they each found new audiences as their careers progressed. Some fans might have dropped off along the way but that happens with any band who has a sustained longevity in the music business. You either like them or you don’t, it’s your choice.

Think about it though…

But seriously, if Vampire Weekend is the next anything that’s not a jam band or at one point considered a jam band, they’re the next Beach Boys.

And once Phish retires, Twiddle of Perpetual Groove will claim the jam band Throne.

And yes, us music snobs have to face the truth; another beloved indie-rock band will be heard on the office friendly Q104 like radio stations from now until eternity.

By Adam Chmielewski

@PolishKaiju

Photo Credits- Sony Music/Ross Gilmore/SIPA USA/Jason Merritt/Jason Speakman

Do you think Vampire Weekend is the new O.A.R. or the new Dave Matthews Band? Let Nerdbot know in the comments!!

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