“It feels like the beginning of summer,” singer Ezra Koenig told the crowd Tuesday at the sold-out Red Butte Garden before launching into the third song of Vampire Weekend’s headlining 20-song, 90-minute set.
And it did feel like summer, with Vampire Weekend opening what will be the largest concert series the University of Utah’s botanical garden has ever hosted, with 27 concerts left between now and mid-September. The evening turned chilly once the sun went down near the beginning of the New York City-based quartet’s set, but a sizable mass of flesh danced both next to the stage and throughout the well-manicured, lush green lawn, keeping bodies warm. (Liquor also helped.)
The quartet’s modern take on the admittedly nondescript genre of “world” music advanced with last week’s much-anticipated release of the band’s third album, “Modern Vampires of the City,” where dub step shared the soundscape with ska and Latin-chanting choirs — much like what Peter Gabriel would do before he abandoned pop music for classical music. (The band’s nod to Gabriel came both in the soundtrack playing before the band took the stage as well as in the lyrics of the song, “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa.”)
The band — led by Koenig but also featuring Chris Tomson on drums, bassist Chris Baio, and the band’s not-so-secret weapon, the musical omnivore Rostam Batmanglij on keys and guitars — was, unfortunately, not able to replicate the layers of music shown on the brilliant “Modern Vampires of the City,” with previously recorded music weaved into the band’s live performance. But, fortunately, the spirit of the record survived, although it took until the fifth song for the band to trot out a song from the new album.
The creeping darkness of the third album’s subject matter didn’t come through, but it is more of a testament to the band’s Springsteen-esque ability to pair doom with ungloomy music.
The band’s set design was spartan, as many of Red Butte Garden performers choose to do, letting the trees that lined the stage and the grounds at stage right and left to reflect the lighting. Aside from fog machines, the only set ornamentation was an ornately framed mirror that every so often proclaimed a message. The band’s jeans and plain, untucked-in long-sleeved shirts showed that with this band, the song is king.
While the four members are noticeably statuesque in their showmanship, the energy, rhythms and melodies dare you to move, and resistance was usually futile. Red Butte Garden’s line-up skews to an older demographic, so it was nice to have a concert for the kids before they gravitate to the Vans Warped Tour and Crucial Fest later in the summer. Or, at the very least, Edward Sharpe & The Magnetic Zeros on May 30.
Where • Red Butte Garden
When • Tuesday, May 21
Bottom Line • Eclectic set of songs from an energetic band a good way to start off the concert series.