It reads like a novelty at best, a mess at worst: four Columbia U. squares meshing a button-down indie aesthetic with an unabashed love for frenetic Afro-pop. The preps dubiously dub their sound "Upper West Side Soweto" — but don't stop reading just yet.
As NYC's Vampire Weekend vigorously proved at a sold-out Jannus Live on Tuesday, the band's hop-hop-shuffle culture clash is neither a gag nor is it gag-inducing. It's pretty dang fun actually, tony waterfront references, grammatical fetishes and Congolese soukous rhythms included.
Taking the stage after the moody dream-pop of Baltimore band Beach House (sleepy-time music like Mazzy Star, remember them?), VW made a relatively jarring entrance, kicking into the pogo beat of Holiday, off latest album Contra. And just like that, 2,000 sweaty, packed-in hipsters commenced bouncing, cool-kid cardio that lasted for 70 feel-good minutes.
VW shouldn't sound so organic, but it does, as if floppy-haired lead singer Ezra Koenig and his three earnest mates were seemingly birthed wearing headphones blaring Paul Simon's Graceland. The prickly, puckish guitar of Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa, from the group's self-titled 2008 debut, was one of myriad numbers that required Chris Tomson to keep a new-math beat.
That drumming dude — maybe the only real "dude" in the crew, to be honest — had to stay alert, whether jumping into the vaguely '80s New Wave of M79 or muscling up for the polite punk of California English (performed on a smoky stage that cast cool bonfire shadows) and sorta-hit single Cousins. Not that the other guys had it easy: The likably grinning Koenig is a quick, clever picker, his guitar issuing a unique skittering of its own.
VW has only two albums to work from, and a few of their songs mushed together in a world-music lump. But just when things got a little too same-soundy, the band slowed down for lullaby ballad Taxi Cab, then broke all rules of tempo on the stop-start delirium of Diplomat's Son."
The quartet saved two of its silliest, snottiest songs for the end of the night: Oxford Comma (a.k.a. the series comma, natch) and Horchata (a Mexican rice beverage, of course). Those are some high-falutin' references for sure, but this much is true: You might not want to get stuck talking to these smartypantses at a cocktail mixer. But spin them on your stereo, and you'll have one heck of a party.
Sean Daly can be reached at email@example.com or (727) 893-8467. His Pop Life column runs every Sunday in Floridian.