Last night, Vampire Weekend played a sold out show at The Aragon Ballroom in Uptown, Chicago. I'd seen them play a couple of times before in front of mostly bored crowds, so I wasn't sure what to expect this time around. The Aragon, as beautiful as it is, has possibly the worst sound system in the city, so my expectations were low at best.
But I love Vampire Weekend, so I found a last minute Craigslist ticket and headed off. After missing the opening band, I caught the back half of Beach House. They were pretty good, although The Aragon was a little too large for their sound. They did have fun lit up pyramids on stage though! The crowd stood around and consumed beers during their set, but seemed to be paying attention.
During the half hour wait for Vampire Weekend, I heard a woman asking some nearby fans if they knew the new album too, or only listened to the old stuff. Now, the new-ish VW album, Contra, came out in January, was #1 on the Billboard charts its first week, and garnered tons of critical praise, but no one seemed to actually like it. I didn't even like it at first, but their first album meant so much to me (that's another story) that I was determined to give it a 2nd, 3rd, 27th listen before I gave up on it. I ended up falling in love, only to be utterly disappointed in the crowd's reaction the last time they were in town, because no one seemed to care about these songs at all. I started to think I was finding nuances where there were none and because of my love of that first album - and the place I was in my life at the time - I was tricking myself into thinking I actually cared for Contra. Until last night.
The band kicked things off with the usual "Holiday"/"White Sky" combo to get everyone energized, but they didn't need it. This crowd came ready to dance. The new stuff got cheers just as big as the poppier cuts from their 2008 debut. For the most part, the band didn't do much of anything to the song arrangements (Was that a longer intro to "Cousins"? Did they actually just pull off "I think Ur a Contra"?), but they get extra points for perfect lighting and the best sound I have ever heard at The Aragon. There was a slight tinny quality to the sound, even after the deliberate auto tune of "California English" was turned off of Ezra Koenig's mic, but that's minor compared to the usual issues at the venue.
A surprising moment came during "Taxi Cab," one of the quietest songs off Contra: the whole main floor started swaying their hands back and forth to the music and a couple of stray lighters could even be found flickering in an ode to shows of the 20th century. Another highlight was the one-two punch ode to academia of "Campus" and "Oxford Comma". The intense energy of the crowd is what made the night truly memorable, matching the band clap for clap and stomping their feet in impatience for an encore. When VW keyboardist/guitarist/producer/songwriter/singer/all around bad ass Rostam Batmanglij took the mic and said Chicago was one of the best crowds of the tour and he "wasn't just saying that," you just had to believe him.