Red Butte Garden opened its summer concert series earlier than I can ever remember with a sold-out Vampire Weekend show Tuesday night.
Clearly, they knew what they were doing.
On what proved a classic Salt Lake City spring evening--crisp and clear and the hills, at least briefly, a lush green, with a three-quarter moon hanging low--Vampire Weekend delivered an energetic burst of jittery pop-rock with a distinct dance flavor for 3,o00 or so folks who never left their feet from the moment the quartet hit the stage.
Now with three albums under their collective belt--all three albums that have improved on their respective predecessors--Vampire Weekend was remarkably assured on stage, and their sound was pristine, their instruments mixing with samples and synthesizers to, at various points, evoke surf-rock, reggae, ska, world-beat and straight-up pop.
Once singer Ezra Koenig and Co. got things started with a near-perfect three-song burst of "Cousins," "White Sky" and "Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa," the proceedings were a relentless march of sunny jams, incisive sounds and clever wordplay. "I Stand Connected" was solid, and "Diane Young" from the band's latest release, Modern Vampires of the City, was a bombastic delight, and as rocking as the band ever got during their 90-minutes-plus show.
The set veered seamlessly between songs from the new album and older favorites; Vampire Weekend now has enough familiar "hits" to sprinkle them generously among the new material. Among the new ones, the ballad "Step" offered the first respite from the nonstop dance party six songs into the night, while "Unbelievers" settled nicely between crowd favorites "Holiday" and "Horchata."
If there's a criticism of the band to be found, it's not from their live performance, but rather how so many of their songs settle into the same tempo and vibe--it's all good stuff, but at times it was a bit like a reggae show where the consistent rhythms from song to song can get a little dull.
Despite that, songs like the raucous "A-Punk" and lush "Don't Lie"--played for only the second time ever, according to Koenig--still offered some legit aural thrills. And the arrival of older favorite "Oxford Comma" just before the band paused before a brief encore was received with some of the loudest cheers of the night.
All in all, a damn strong opener at Utah's best summer music venue, with a bit of a Twilight Concert Series vibe thanks to the atypically young (for Red Butte shows, at least) and constantly moving crowd.