Vampire Weekend returns to Montreal with new look, sound

Vampire weekend (above) on the M Telus stage, their first show in Montreal after a six-year wait. (Liam Carleton/AQ)

St. Thomas University student Liam Carleton went to see Vampire Weekend at the Montreal venue M Telus on Sept.8, 2019. It was their closest Canadian show to Fredericton. 

“Hello Montreal,” said Ezra Koenig, frontman of indie-pop juggernauts Vampire Weekend.

“It’s been so long. Too long.”

The sold-out Sept. 8 show at M Telus was the band’s first in Montreal in six years.

Before their May 2019 album Father of the Bride, the last time the band released a full-length album was in 2013, the unparalleled Modern Vampires of the City. 

Christone “Kingfish” Ingram opened for Vampire Weekend. He’s a 20-year-old guitarist and singer from Clarksdale, Mississippi and the kind of skilled bluesman and rocker you’d expect to hear headlining Harvest Jazz and Blues Festival, not opening for a champagne socialist crowd on the outskirts of local universities.

Mostly sticking to an array of ten-minute medleys, Kingfish contrasted the headliners, playing long riffs and moaning notes instead of bouncy pop.

For the main event, Vampire Weekend decorated the  stage in multicoloured banners and bathed it in rainbow lights, with alternating colours throughout the show. Two drum-kits and three synths cluttered the stage, and a large spinning globe hung overhead acting as a pseudo-disco ball, switching up speeds and directions every few minutes.

Besides a few sections of balcony, the mostly student crowd was crammed together and stood near the stage like a audience in a Shakespearean-era theatre.

The space’s naturalist imagery and the well-shaven hippie, dad-jam-band sound the band cultivated on their new album sort of contrasts with their previous projects. In the past, the band looked metropolitan, playing soft and witty songs, now they walk out of nineties thrift stores with arbitrary ’60s era instruments.

Founding member Rostam Batmanglij left the group in early 2016, leaving some die-hards on uneasy footing walking into this album. Despite Batmanglij being an integral part of the groups blare and likeness (it took four skilled multi-instrumentalists to fill the void on stage), the replacements fit perfectly. None are overbearing, and even though the stage was full of talented people, the focus remained on the group’s front man, Koenig.

The band’s setlist was a crowd-pleasing dichotomy of classic and new tracks, collecting songs from all four of the band’s albums. They also covered Bob Dylan’s “Jokerman” and Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m Goin’ Down,” two American classics.

You could feel every thud of from Chris Tomson’s kick drum resonate through the crowd. Bassist Chris Baio’s awkward dancing was both beautiful and cringe worthy, just like the rest of the crowd.

The double-kit, militaristic beat of “Worship You” was the pinnacle of the five-song encore, marching right into “Ya Hey,” which calmly closed the show in glare of Bic lighters and smartphone flashlights.

With their new incarnation, Koenig and company expertly showed they can grow an original sound and image on their own terms, and highlight a sonic world beyond the campus.