On the surface, Vampire Weekend seem like ideal sitcom boyfriends — unthreatening, pleasantly wacky without being too off-kiler, and just cosmopolitan enough to keep things interesting. Well, this is one of those times when you can indeed judge a book by its cover: The Gotham-based combo is the very model of the modern post-grad outfit, one capable of notching a number-one album (this year’s XL release, “Contra”) while remaining at least one album shy of inevitable hipster backlash.
At this, the opening night of a three-night stand at Radio City Music Hall that has become one of the fall’s hottest tickets, the quartet came across as more relaxed and confident than in their club days. Pan-ethnic tinges like the tropicalia of the sweetly nonsensical “Horchata” and the soukous guitar riffing of “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” have been more fully integrated, and seem like part of a real band DNA as opposed to a sociological experiment in the making.
While Paul Simon isn’t the hippest touchstone, he’s the closest corollary to VW mainman Ezra Koenig, who shares the same filmic attention to detail and character development, and the same sense of commitment to precision. The latter element can short-circuit Vampire Weekend’s live shows, and it came close to doing just that in stretches of this perf, which took in virtually every song on the band’s two studio albums.
A passel of breezy, lightweight tunes like “California English” and “Bryn” blended into a sonic gauze that wafted down onto the aud lazily and pleasantly, as if to lull, rather than enliven. The mood perked up a tad during their relatively straightforward rendition of Bruce Springsteen’s “I’m Goin’ Down,” but didn’t really pick up again until they delivered a bristly one-two punch of “Giving Up the Gun” and “I Think UR a Contra.”
Although Us magazine named the band to its just-minted list of Most Stylish New Yorkers, Vampire Weekend clearly haven’t succumbed to the cult of personality. That’s the good news. The bad news? They could stand to study that playbook at least once.
Openers Dum Dum Girls delivered a frenetic set of deliciously minimalist punk to a minimal audience, while second-billed Beach House pumped out a short set that was long on dreamy charm.
Vampire Weekend plays the Hollywood Bowl on Sept. 26.