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The National/Vampire Weekend

 

By Alex Workman, July 2010

 

 

After a couple of pre-gig beers in La Passagère and Sirius by the side of the Rhône, we then cross Place Bellecour where the new OL away kit is being launched in some style. There’s ballerinas abseiling from the top of McDonalds and “painting” a giant canvas with the new strip, while DJs bash out some one-size-fits-all Europop and the team bus pulls in for the players to sign autographs. It would be an impressive spectacle, but for one small problem: it’s hideous. Seriously, it looks like my old Grandma’s flea-bitten Axminster; all eye-watering seventies-style clashing colours (burgundy and pink).

 

We get the funiculaire up to the venue for this year’s Nuits de Fourviere at the Roman amphitheatre just in time for the opening act. It becomes obvious that there’s a great respect between these two US bands as the night progresses, but they are chalk and cheese musically and stylistically so I wonder how the idea of them sharing the bill came about. They are both based in Brooklyn and causing a stir at home and on the continent, so they may well have become drinking buddies after the latest Craig Ferguson show (another Brit with a bloody good agent) I suppose. They both play well over 90 minutes so it’s not a case of a traditional support slot as such (they both get dry ice, Jason). Both bands have learnt some rudimentary French phrases … which the crowd lap up, but embarrassingly I still don’t understand.

 

The National’s singer, Matt Berninger, looks so fragile he could shatter on stage at any moment. Cathartic is the word here. At one point he’s staggering around overburdened with emotion … well, either that or he’s pissed up. I see that in England those clever marketing people (“go kill yourself”) are using an Elbow comparison on the back of last year’s Mercury win to help them shift a few extra units, but this is grossly unfair — they’ve both got beards and deal in heartache, but the nearest Garvey gets to genuine talent is when he produces I Am Kloot records. The National are on a different planet. Berninger sounds like a gravelly Ian Curtis, a bit Tindersticks without thinking of Vic Reeves’ pub singer, and appears just as intense. I don’t want to fall into the trap of claiming his onstage appearance is all a big act in case he does mean it maaaan and only Paul Gascoigne aka Gazza aka G8 armed with chicken, Tennents Super and a fishing rod can hope to save the day. They play a lot of the latest album, “High Violet”, plus most of their best songs off “Boxer”, “Alligator” and “Sad Songs For Dirty Lovers” (my one gripe being no “Lucky You”). A stunning version of “Baby We’ll Be Fine” has the singer stumbling around looking like Jack Lemmon at his most desperate in Glengarry Glen Ross repeating the refrain “I’m so sorry for everything” over and over. The drummer looks like Ben Stiller in The Royal Tenenbaums and the rest look generally odd; they probably actually were the weirdo outsiders at school. Strangely, the band comprises of two sets of brothers behind the car crash singer (perhaps not that strange these days as all bands must be related by law or, if not, at least pretend to be), my theory being that only their own family would have spoken to them in the days pre-fame. “Apartment Story”, “Fake Empire” and “Anyone’s Ghost” are all highlights of the set; I’m amazed at the amount of locals singing along to every word and the rapturous applause they receive, but they’ve earned it like a muthafucker!

 

These are strange days for music when the quality press are comparing Damon Albarn to Bowie in his pomp for artistic diversity and talent. Vampire Weekend are one of the most successful bands in recent years to fuse indie pop with World (i.e. African) Music. For me, the first album was perfect preppy pop with a few subtle twists. The fact my two-year-old jumps about whenever they come on and sings the “Ay, ay, ay, ay” chorus from “A-Punk” attests to the catchiness of their early material. The latest album is the opposite for me. All twists and not enough great pop moments (although “Cousins”, “Holiday” and “Horchata” are real sing-a-long stuff too), which must make performing them live a real nightmare, but with the help of some neat technical gadgetry they reproduce the sound admirably. The Ivy Leaguers look suitably Ralph-ed up, apart from the keyboard player in a bad tie dye t-shirt. Ezra Koenig named the band after his film project of the same name at Columbia University (this lot are like Happy Mondays if they’d gone to Oxbridge rather than Old Trafford, as they are as eclectic in their music and as obscure in the lyrics department). They look like they’re having the time of their life and this really comes across to the crowd. The “Contra” cover backdrop of the classy student bird keeps coming alive with scary eyes, which seems to amuse the band at least (not sure whether this was before or after news that she is suing the band for unauthorised use of her image, but this perhaps explains the mirth at the devil eyes). Their enthusiasm is contagious. I soon lose the wife due to some excessive pogoing (her, not me) during “Oxford Comma”. They rattle through the early hits “Mansard Roof” and “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”, sprinkle in most of the patchy second album and end with a rousing rendition of “Walcott”, a rallying call to a friend stuck in Cape Cod (these lads have obviously never been rained-in in a Wetherspoons in Gainsborough) rather than a lament to Theo’s non-inclusion in the England squad for South Africa. As Vampire Weekend exit stage left to a delighted dancing audience, I reckon this scores quite highly on the Swine equivalent of the Capello Index. We are caught in a bit of friendly-fire as a barrage of cushions are thrown jubilantly in the air from the posh seats and this then descends into a giant “pillow fight”, involving the band. It’s like Tiswas, which is quite fitting as both bands could have easily belonged to that era. The band love it and are beaming as if Sally James herself had turned up in a tight RL sweater to trade custard pies.

 

On the way home, we see a lot of people heading to the Pompiers’ annual party (fireman’s ball basically, at the station so the pool table has been replaced by a huge sound system, giant light show and tunes that would shame Pacha) as their special day ends and Bastille Day begins, a national holiday bien sûr, which meant the gig went on late. I used to be a bit of a night owl, but not when the babysitter’s on a generous hourly rate I’m not!

 

 

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