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Thursday, June 5, 2014

Vampire Weekend w/ Cults @ BMO Harris Pavilion

June 4, 2014

vampire weekend ezra koenig milwaukee 2014 concert
Photo credit: CJ Foeckler
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The biggest complaint when the BMO Harris Pavilion began holding stand-alone concerts two summers ago was that the bands booked at the 10,000-capacity lakefront amphitheater didn’t draw enough to make the venue appear full. The underwhelming turnouts for Counting Crows and My Morning Jacket inarguably stained the Pavilion’s optimistic inaugural season. Gladly, promoters didn’t bail on the stage. Really they couldn’t after sinking $13.5 million into the projects. They simply needed to find bigger acts to play it. One-fourth of the venue’s capacity was guaranteed when the Pabst Theater Organization moved its Vampire Weekend show to the Pavilion from the Riverside Theater it sold out that venue almost immediately, and easily more than double that number came last night. The place looked packed.

The cold, crisp evening felt more like autumn than early summer when the scrappy, noise-pop opener Cults walked on stage. The still fading sun washed out the band’s fuzzy visual projections, which only became apparent as darkness descended near the closing songs. The weather didn’t hinder their performance at all, though. Guitarist Brian Oblivion said this gig marked their biggest show to date and the group handled the audience quite well. While some sound problems—the glockenspiel and guitar overpowered Madeline Follin’s vocals—marred its infectious single, “Go Outside,” Cults set was fun and engaging, really all you could ask for an opener playing to this crowd.

Throughout the night, the Pavilion’s merch lines stretched hundreds of feet long while beer remained instantly accessible. Which says it all doesn’t it? The Afro-pop influenced Vampire Weekend is all about style—frontman Ezra Koenig sings gauchely about trendy items like keffiyehs and Aranciata. Fortunately, the snobby and chic East Coast dudes still offer some substance. Last year’s Modern Vampires of the City found them shedding that elitist exterior and creating beautiful and dense material that didn’t try so much to reclaim wool-knit sweaters and polos. It was a much needed change in aesthetic.

Much of the band’s set drew from the newer material, the middle saw some from the band’s second record, the frenetic and wildy arranged Contra, and the end culminated with the simple, pure Graceland pop from the band’s self-titled debut. While the up-tempo singles “Diane Young” and “Ya Hey” sounded great, the more subdued songs came off better. The serene, consistent pulse of “Obvious Bicycle” was hypnotic and the sweetly-sung “Hannah Hunt” showed Koenig’s impressive skills behind the microphone. “This is far and away the best Milwaukee show,” the singer gushed before burning through set closer, “Wolcott.” It just might have been the best BMO Harris Pavilion show so far, too.