Ten Footnotes from Vampire Weekend at Melbourne’s Forum

 

I notice it early. The drummer, lashing and bombastic and then gentle, is wearing a Collingwood jumper. Chris Thomson is the stickman for Vampire Weekend and here in The Forum, in the heart of Melbourne, it’s a gesture emblematic of this band’s magnanimous outlook. I’m not a Magpie fan, but I smile. It’s an offering, a symbol of hopeful connection.

*

I instantly love The Forum. An arts venue must be evocative and not simply functional. It should also be an instructive text, and a participant in the unfurling theatre. Inside’s a blue night sky, kitsch yet confirming Roman busts, spaciousness, coolness, and a beguiling solidarity amongst the eclectic gathering, all there for the same connection. A generous security guard takes our photo, while the beardy Scottish one near the VIP section is chirpy denial when we ask to sneak in.

*

Third song in is, “Unbelievers” from Modern Vampires of the City. It’s chugging, train-like rhythm and stubborn optimism, but I love the distillation, the there’s-a-life-right-there, gorgeous binary of

I know I love you
And you love the sea.

*

An Oxford comma is a controversial punctuation mark. It’s also the title of the first Vampire Weekend song I heard in which it’s a symbol to critique affectation and exclusivity. It references Dharamshala in India, site of the world’s most strikingly situated cricket ground with the snow-capped Himalayas creating a painterly mis-en-scene. Dharamshala is also home to the Dalai Lama. I hope Vampire Weekend write a song about the apostrophe. Gee, we need’s it.

*

Fresh from lunch at Il Tempo on Degraves Street we amble up Flinders Street to investigate The Forum. The capitalised black font on the front’s white hoarding rouses a frizz of frisson. Next door Hosier Lane ribbons with its urban art while across the road is angular and aggressive Federation Square. Like the difficult, exciting world itself we’re at once confronted and comforted.

 

*

That other 2020 Australian phenomenon, the power outage, quieted the band part way into “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” and twenty minutes later they took up the song where it had collapsed before it plunged again and Ezra said that a third, and final attempt to fix the electrical issue would proceed, but we dreaded our night would suffer voltage interruptus and Claire and I would wing back to Adelaide, unrequited and hollow. Blissfully, the show then rollicked through 27 songs including an encore request for, “Ottoman” which shares lyrical intertextuality with, “Cape Cod” courtesy of the gently self-mocking

 

it feels so unnatural, Peter Gabriel too.

 

It could be a nod to the band’s supposed Afro-beats cultural appropriation.

*

To soar music needs space and silence. Within songs and across songs this transpires Tuesday night in The Forum. I like being invited to dart into the air and light by harmony. Colour and texture and welcoming lulls for my mind and ears. Art’s a conversation, a handshake, an invitation to make an investment. I can hear former band member Rostam Batmanglij’s legacy: bewilderingly pretty piano lines; unique guitar resonances; sonic and human fragility.

*

Greta Morgan’s a multi-instrumentalist touring with Vampire Weekend and like everyone on stage, she contributes effervescently. We enjoy her 80’s dancing behind the keyboard during which she sways from side to side like she’s in a Human League tribute band. Brilliant. She plays a maraca too, and in a 7-piece outfit, in this age of drowning sounds and buffoon noise, we watch and concentrate and pick out its tiny sunny rattle. At once each band member is both within the ensemble and without, operating in a private territory and yet coupled to organic whole.

 

*

Of the songs I’ve anticipated across both hemispheres and many decades I especially want to hear Vampire Weekend’s “Hannah Hunt.” It’s a text of deep and shuddering significance. At 2.40 the music bursts, and the moment is perfectly formed with beauty and despair and somehow, despite it all, triumph. After the song, front man Ezra Koenig describes how the opening lines were inspired by dialogue from Picnic at Hanging Rock. It’s also an offering, a symbol of hopeful connection.

 

A gardener told me some plants move
But I could not believe it
Till me and Hannah Hunt
Saw crawling vines and weeping willows
As we made our way from Providence to Phoenix

*

Two giant blue and green globes are thrown among the mosh pit who bounce and tumble them about with joyous physics. It’s been a superb set and the realisation of a shared goal. The final song is “Ya Hey” and it’s introduced with an acknowledgment of the bushfire crisis and there’s poignancy in the lines
Through the fire and through the flames
You won’t even say your name.

 

It’s also an offering, a symbol of hopeful connection.

 

 

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About Mickey Randall

Favourite film: The Shawshank Redemption Favourite song: Khe Sahn Favourite holiday destination: Gold Coast Favourite food: steak Favourite beer: VB Best player seen: Dogga Worst player seen: Frogga Last score on beep test: 3.14159 Favourite minor character in Joyce’s Ulysses: Punch Costello

Comments

  1. Colin Ritchie says

    I must check Vampire Weekend out as I’m not aware of them. Our musical tastes are similar so I’ll do myself a favour to find out if I’m with you on this one Mickey! Cheers.

  2. Great review and observations MR. VW are one of my fave bands (Harmony Hall made my top 10). The Forum is a great venue. As good as the show was, check out the set list from the Enmore! The run home from Married to the encore is ridiculously good, including a Bruce cover!

    Cheers

  3. Thanks Colin. I hope you like what you hear. They possess an identifiable sound, but particularly on their latest album Father of the Bride cover a wide range of genres.

    Howdy Rick. The Enmore setlist is fantastic too and they had 29 songs as opposed to our 27 although I’m still very pleased. Rich Man was a great surprise at the Forum being among my favourites on the new album with the original Rodgers and Hammerstein-like strings replaced by keyboards to good effect, and they did some interesting things by changing the tempo from double time to half during that riff. If Harmony Hall doesn’t poll well in the Triple J Hottest 100, then the youth of our country are dead to me!

  4. John Butler says

    Onya Mickey.

    Love the Forum. Love the checkered history it’s had. Love the kitsch clash of styles. It’s a great gig venue.

    Never really been able to get into the VW’s.

    Ce la vie.

  5. Thanks JB. I love charismatic music venues like The Forum, and Adelaide’s The Gov and Thebby aka The Barton: atmospheric, intimate and welcoming. Locally, The Wheatsheaf is also tremendous with the back room boasting mismatched kitchen tables and odd chairs among a most idiosyncratic drinks menu. At The Forum I enjoyed that most 2020 of beers: an Old Mate Pale Ale, which at least lexically, provided a contrast to the band’s Columbia University cool.

  6. John Butler says

    Ballarat has the Eastern Hotel, which is a decent approximation of an inner city Melbourne hole in the wall music pub.

    But I don’t get out much any more. I applaud your energy.

  7. Luke Reynolds says

    The drummer wearing a Collingwood jumper- Vampire Weekend are my new favourite band.

    The Forum is a wonderful venue for live music. Especially right up the front, and to the side, near the bar.

    Seeing a Test match in Dharamshala is on my bucket list. Though S.C.Ganguly’s plan to limit Indian Tests to Mumbai, Kolkata, Chennai, Bangalore & Dehli may halt that. Might have to be an ODI.

    Giving “Father of the Bride” another listen as I read this. Really good album.

  8. Thanks JB. I try to get to a couple of decent gigs a year along with a few strummers in a beer garden too. Last year was Middle Kids and VW. Unsure about 2020 just yet. Something will emerge!

    Luke- we were on the side near the bar, using the little wall by the VIP section as a drinks stand! It was great. Talking recently with some blokes about cricket bucket lists. Still reckon the West Indies would be the place to go along with NZ for ease of access.

    Cheers.

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