|Vampire Weekend front man Ezra Koenig sports Babar jacket.|
Show Review: 91x Wrex The Halls:
w/ Vampire Weekend, Queens of the Stone Age, Arctic Monkeys & Alt-J
@ Valley View Casino Center (i.e. the San Diego Sports Arena)
First things first kudos to 91x for putting together a legitimately watchable alt rock holiday radio show. I've actually never been to an event, period, at the Sports Arena/I Pay One Arena/Valley View Casino Center, besides Kobey's Swap Meet (which is outside in the parking lot.) It's not that I consciously avoid arena rock concerts, but actually, yes I do consciously avoid arena rock concerts.
This show, however, was different, notably because the tickets were free, and because I had backstage passes and an invitation to hang out in Vampire Weekend's dressing room. These freebies were NOT provided by 91x, thank you very much, but they were certainly appreciated. I was really looking forward to seeing both the bands and the crowd, and a pre show drink at the Chili's in the parking lot only got me more excited.
Bands started early but my companion wasn't interested before Alt-J so that was the first band I saw. I skipped Alt-J at the Casbah last time through even though I knew it was "catch them at the small venue while you can" situation. Live in concert, in front of a capacity (16,000?) crowd, Alt-J made it perfectly clear why they have vaulted to prominence: They play a non-derivative brand of easy listening alt rock performed by four talented singer/musicians who seemed focused entirely on the music. Particularly notable were their multi-part vocals and harmonies, which reminded me of bands like Fleet Foxes, as well as Gregorian chants. The crowd very much dug it, singing along to even non single album cuts and enthusiastically "rocking out" to music which is arguably not "appropriate" to rock out to.
Arctic Monkey played next. Not a huge fan historically but the new record has been growing on me. Frontman/singer/guitarist Alex Turner was in robust form, playing to the crowd in a way the resembled the capering of a Top 40 Artist, while the band competently rocked behind him. The short-ish set was laden with songs from the new record as well as greatest hits, and I was duly impressed, if not converted.
Skipped Cage the Elephant to hang out in the Vampire Weekend dressing room.where Rostam and Chris B casually discussed topics ranging from recent PBS documentaries on Narco-Culture, to the fan-made Barbar embroidered denim jacket that singer Ezra Koenig would be wearing that night, to the history of Mexican cinema, to the capacity of Emirates Stadium, home of Arsenal FC, to Echo Park real estate prices, to A&R pitches, all within the span of the Cage The Elephant set.
Further proof that the band members of Vampire Weekend are smart guys, period, no qualifications. The members present also seemed normal and well adjusted. Most unusual for musicians in my experience. They certainly fully deserve their success. I'm not someone who gets particularly star struck, but I do pride myself on being able to conduct an intelligent conversation with other intelligent people, and it was easy to see the intelligence on display. Considering how often intelligence actually works AGAINST success in the cultural industries their success is all the more remarkable.
Their set was warmly received by the Audience and it unspooled with clockwork precision. I don't see how you can fail to be won over by Vampire Weekend.
Putative headliner Queens of the Stone Age had a harder task, filling the cavernous venue with a multitude of guitars. Without the softening sounds of keyboards and samples, their well designed trad alt rock felt a tad stale next to the cultural vibrancy of the Vampire Weekend set but seriously who gives a fuck. Crowd loved it, sold out, good job 91x. Consider Dum Dum Girls for 2014? Broken Bells? Just a couple suggestions.