For Vampire Weekend‘s first attempt at the arena circuit, there is nowhere to hide. There’s no fancy visuals, no ticker tape parade. Whilst they’ve always been a hit at the festivals they’ve played, it’s something else to try and rise up to the challenge of playing venues like the O2 Arena. Their setlist, which crams an impressive 23 songs into 90 minutes, shows that they have the material to at least give it a go.
It helps that they race out of the traps with Diane Young, easily one of 2013’s best singles; its driving bassline booms out of the speakers with as much power as the flashing lights that surround the quartet (maybe that’s why Ezra Koenig is wearing sunglasses for their opening trio of tunes, but that seems highly unlikely). The rest of what is aired from Modern Vampires Of The City fares well. Mellower moments such as Step and Obvious Bicycle are given a bit more heft, whilst Ya Hey is so much more fun when thousands of people attempt its weird but inventive pitch-shifting chorus.
There’s only a couple of misfires; Don’t Lie is one of their most forgettable tracks, but it’s easier to stomach knowing that a sure-fire hit is around the corner or, in this case, a cover of Song 2 by Blur. Vampire Weekend don’t come across as the kind of a band who would play a British indie classic such as Song 2, and while it isn’t played with quite the same raw energy of the original, it’s still a charming surprise nonetheless.
The most enthusiastic crowd response is saved, predictably, for the hits from their self-titled debut LP and its follow up, Contra. The joy that greets White Sky ripples all the way to the back of the O2. Giving Up The Gun and Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa thump along with power and Campus doesn’t feel remotely dated, but it’s A-Punk that truly sets the night on fire, as people both standing and in seats unite in sheer ecstasy. To look around and see nearly everyone lose all sense of control means that any resistance to joining in is futile.
What stops this from becoming an absolute triumph is the lack of visuals, coupled with Koenig’s silence between songs for much of the evening; it’s also why they’re lucky that their back catalogue is rammed with so many highlights that it makes for an immensely fun show. Arenas may not be a place for substance over style but Vampire Weekend are still highly watchable regardless. As the final notes of set closer Walcott ring out, just about everybody is happy, making this a satisfying step up into the big league.