Live at Cockpit on Wednesday, 7th May 2008
Now I don't usually have many options on a Wednesday night, but with both Vampire Weekend and Black Lips playing on the same night I was torn. I love both albums, but eventually plumped for Vampire Weekend as I figured they're one of the hottest acts this year and the gig would potentially be one of the best at the Cockpit.
When we got to the Cockpit it was already full but with the gig being a sell out it's no surprise. What was surprising was the variety of people filling it. I was expecting lots of cardigans and skinny jeans, but it would seem the word of Vampire Weekend has spread to the masses. Although not to the masses of my friends as I couldn't find a single person to take up the spare ticket I had. Obviously people have more plans than I do for a Wednesday night!
First up was White Williams, with frontman Joe Williams cutting a most unassuming figure in his jeans and white t-shirt. He was backed by a basic band of a drummer, bassist and guitarist. Oh and a definitely non basic synth kit with all kinds of knobs to twiddle. The main room of the Cockpit was now full and everyone looked intrigued as to how this set would go. And to be honest I didn't actually realise the set had started. Williams was playing a melodica into the microphone over the guitarist playing seemingly random chords. I thought it was a soundcheck at first but after two minutes I realised it was actually his first song. And at this point I realised this was going to be highly experimental and the first song was an uneasy introduction to his work. The second song 'New Violence' however was perhaps his most conventional song and can stand alongside the likes of Hot Chip in the mainstream.
The rest of the set was more experimental, a little too heavy on the synth for my liking but it could have been forgiven had Mr. Williams been a bit more charismatic and cut a more striking stage presence. He is clearly a very talented musician but his focus is on the synthesiser and singing, rightfully so, but as a frontman he is unfortunately lacking. The guitarist is the complete opposite however as he bounded across the stage and enthusiastically (and impressively) showed off his range of skills.
Ironically enough, it was a track with little synth that was my favourite. They stripped a track back and the guitar and bass got a chance to shine. I don't actually know what it was called (what is with bands these days not introducing themselves or the names of their songs?!) but there was a good two minutes of the guitars being able to do their thing rather than being drowned out by the electronics. Williams brought out the melodica for the last song and his set was brought to a close to strong, and possibly polite, applause from the crowd. Whilst it wasn't really my thing I appreciate what Williams was trying to do and there were hints that he could break through with a bit of luck. But looking at him I think Williams is quite happy to stay underground.
With Williams gone the wait for Vampire Weekend began and I looked back to see a packed Cockpit. People of every age filled the room and by the sounds of them the drink had been flowing. Despite having only released one album Vampire Weekend could have sold out the Cockpit on hype alone, but luckily to me their debut album lived up to the hype. I'd read that the frontman was a very unassuming star and quite shy, but once they hit the stage it was clear whilst he was very articulate and well spoken he also had a twinkle in his eye that suggested he was more than happy in front of a packed crowd.
The album opener 'Mansard Roof' opened the set and the tone was set for the night. Very tight, and four very enthusiastic members. As they went through their set the singer was bobbing up and down and was a very visual frontman, moreso than I expected. His eyebrows were going up and down as he sang and he couldn't stay still. The bassist was also springing across the stage and the keyboardist was interacting with the audience in between most of the songs and seemed to have a big smile on his face throughout. This was clearly a band loving what they were doing. The crowd however...
I think it was halfway through 'Bryn' that I could actually hear chattering from the back of the room. And the guys taking pictures of each other throughout the gig really began to get on my nerves. Looking around the room I could only see a handful of people singing along to the songs and actually seeming to enjoy the gig. It dawned on me that clearly a lot of the crowd were here tonight purely to be seen... going to a Vampire Weekend gig was obviously the 'cool' place to be. Drunken cheers at random points only seemed to strengthen my thoughts that not everyone was here for the music.
But mid-set was what everyone came for. A playful singback along to 'Blake's Got A New Face' was well received from the crowd and then came the song that it seemed everyone had come tonight for. As soon as the singer introduced 'A-Punk' the crowd burst into life and started jumping about and dancing. Groups of lads jumped about as if they were at a football match and the singalong with the bridges were raucous. Having it played on Radio 1 has obviously helped their cause, but the song is the highlight of their album and their set.
The crowd seemed deflated after 'A-Punk' but they played through their set with great confidence and an almost playfulness from the lead singer. 'Walcott' ended their set and hearing it live added a lot to it. It sounded a lot meatier as the band blasted through it complete with crowd singalong. The set was excellent with a couple of new songs that sounded brilliant. The songs did sound very similar to the album but the enthusiasm from the band really bring them to life.
The band were very assured and had a lot more stage presence than I had read about. It was just a shame the crowd didn't seem to share the enthusiasm, as it did hurt the overall gig enthusiasm. Vampire Weekend were brilliant and can only get better. They had a real warmth about them and it would have been brilliant to see them in the smaller room with a room full of fans there for the music. They are probably the most unique band you'll see this year and a real treat. Who would have thought I'd be watching a young American band of graduates performing African influenced music under a train line in Leeds? All on a Wednesday night too!