Vampire Weekend, EartH, review: So tragic it’s cool

There are many benefits to seeing an arena-sized band at an intimate show: the feeling of being part of something special; the ease of getting home; and being close enough to see exactly what the band are wearing on their feet. On Thursday night, the whole room gets to appreciate Vampire Weekend singer Ezra Koenig’s signature socks-and-sandals combo.

Anyone else would be sent to pack up their hacky sacks and go back to church camp for such a crime against fashion, but Koenig occupies a weird cultural space; a kind of indie-pop Tom Hanks, he’s equal parts louche college boyfriend and middle-aged dad. Embracing the conventionally tragic is kind of Vampire Weekend’s thing; not many people can pull off a punctuation jam or, well, socks and sandals. To be tragic, for Koenig, is to be great.

“We’re just getting back into the swing of things,” he tells the crowd at EartH in east London. In the six years since Vampire Weekend’s last album (Modern Vampires of the City), he’s focused on other things – hosting a radio series on Beats Radio, creating and writing a Netflix series (the anime-inspired Neo Yokio) and starting what might be the world’s most attractive family with actor Rashida Jones – and this is the first of “three little London shows” (their words, literally emblazoned on the limited-run merch).

Known for fusing world rhythms with irresistibly jangly pop hooks, Vampire Weekend are down a founding member since producer and multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij left the band in 2016 to pursue solo projects. Not that you’d know it, though, from the seven-strong touring band that includes two drummers, at least four keyboards, one vintage Spurs shirt and the slinkiest hips in the biz (on bassist Chris Baio, whose mesmerising dancing adds some movement to what is a fairly static set).

Although the release of the band’s new double-LP Father of the Bride is imminent, this isn’t a launch party or showcase; new singles are sprinkled throughout the set but it’s heavy on fan favourites and winding jam sessions that seem indicative of where the band are at right now. They set the tone straight away with recent single “Harmony Hall”, whose urgent house piano and Britpop rhythms turn the place into a kind of thirtysomething’s rave. The shoulder grooves thrown out by the band are as uncool-but-kinda-cool as Koenig’s footwear and, tethered as the musicians are by their mics and instruments, Koenig’s eyebrows do most of the crowd interaction, shooting up for choruses, pointing towards us for big lines. It doesn’t take long to get the audience on their feet.

Father of the Bride is significantly more experimental than their previous work but Vampire Weekend are not a band looking to distance themselves from their older songs. Gamely rattling through three audience requests during the encore, they deliver a set packed with material from the three previous Vampire Weekend records, taking in everything from punctuation anthem “Oxford Comma” to lesser-heard SBTRKT collaboration “New Dorp, New York”. The extended jamming is a little indulgent and though it’s a nice peek behind the curtain to be treated to both the regular version and a piano version of new track 2021, it hovers on the border of tiresome. Koenig pulls it back with the so-cheesy-it’s-cool move of finishing the song using a talkbox effect that makes it sound like The Muppets Take Vampire Weekend.

Grins are permanently plastered on the faces of the Vampire Weekend-starved crowd. Even the intros that feint one way before dropping into a familiar chord progression don’t fool the fans, who react with wild enthusiasm to every strike of the vibraslap, every harpsichord run, every duelling guitar part. As everyone leaves, the corridors ring with breathless discussion about trying for tickets to the next show (tonight in Islington) or the newly announced Alexandra Palace gigs later this year. That and Koenig’s footwear, obviously. Vampire Weekend are officially back. And they’re more tragic than ever.