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 we 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.