Vampire Weekend's Cali-inspired Contra Hits NY Crowds

03/22/2010 05:12 am ET | Updated May 25, 2011
  • Alex Lebowitz Alex Lebowitz works at NBC News, and frequently attends local concerts.

Produced by HuffPost's Eyes & Ears Citizen Journalism Unit.

You probably know the story by now: four intelligent guys from Columbia University are passionate about world music, preppy clothing and Cape Cod. The guys start playing together around Morningside Heights and then throughout New York City under the name Vampire Weekend. Pushed by blogs such as Scott Lapatine's Stereogum, they soon become an Internet sensation and get press from more established publications like Rolling Stone and Spin.

Jump ahead not even three years, and Vampire Weekend's self-titled first album has sold over 490,000 copies. Billboard reported that sophomore album "Contra" sold 120,000 copies this past week, making it the number-one album on the American charts. They are even the subject of a lengthy New Yorker profile by Lizzie Widdicombe. Not bad for an indie band whose biggest song right now is about a Mexican drink called "horchata."

The kids donned in Polo came back to New York City after spending some time out West to embrace the "California" sound of the new album. They played United Palace Theater on Sunday night, the penultimate show at Webster Hall on Monday night, and closed the week with an appearance at indie hall Bowery Ballroom on Tuesday night.

The roughly 550 people who packed into the Bowery Ballroom must have felt undeserving of this treat. After all, Vampire Weekend could sell out far bigger venues like the Hammerstein, Nokia Theater, or possibly even Madison Square Garden. The concert took on a more exclusive feel due to the presence of a guy outside with a list. If you were on the list, you and a friend could get in. If not, too bad. The Bowery Ballroom is often packed. But this concert took it to a new level.

The lucky ones who scored tickets for this show heard great music, and based on the head-bopping, dancing and fist-pumping, they also had a great time.

The biggest surprise of the concert was the performance of the new song "Cousins." The quick beat of Tomson and the finger-work of guitarist Rostam Batmanglij sent the crowd into a frenzy. One notoriously tall individual in the center of the floor was seamlessly moving in a radius of roughly ten feet. This was particularly impressive considering how packed-in everyone was. He was jumping and chest-bumping like a madman, and fighting the beat in a way that would make the "Situation" proud. But everyone seemed too impressed with the performance of the musicians to care about some drunken frat-star type.

If there was one somewhat questionable aspect of the band's performance, it had to be the use of AutoTune in "California English." Passionate supporters may grant a reprieve to the band when hearing this on the studio album. After all, it is in the blood of these guys to experiment with different kinds of music. But Koenig's voice is so strong and piercing in a live environment that to alter it is at best jarring and at worst a missed opportunity. This was the most forgettable of their songs at the Bowery.

Vampire Weekend closed with a popular request from the crowd: "Walcott," the second-to-last song on the debut album. Who knew a song about leaving Cape Cod for New Jersey could produce such passion? The crowd reacted in a similar way to "Cousins," with that tall dude in the middle again leading the way.

In the spirit of a more-established institution, Frank Sinatra's "New York, New York" played over the speakers as everyone filed out. Vampire Weekend may never be as popular as the "Chairman of the Board." But their performance at the Bowery Ballroom and the sales of "Contra prove they firmly earned their place in the big leagues.