When Vampire Weekend last played at the Mann Center in 2013, the band looked undeniably different.
For one, producer and instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij was still in the band at that point — he left in 2016 to pursue solo projects. And the band, which had just released their third album Modern Vampires of the City, was playing with a darker tension in both their music and staging.
After the tour ended, they went relatively quiet for a few years until Batmanglij’s departure was announced. Fans waited patiently.
Those fans were rewarded with Father of the Bride earlier this year, a sprawling, sunny album largely produced by front man Ezra Koenig and longtime Vampire Weekend collaborator Ariel Rechtshaid. (Batmanglij returned to work on a few tracks as well.) And it was clear from Wednesday night’s packed concert at the Mann Center that this band had been sorely missed.
Koenig, boyishly charming in a navy quarter-zip and brown shorts, was magnetic throughout a two-hour set that combined older favorites like “Cousins” and “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” with tracks from Father of the Bride, such as “Harmony Hall” and “Unbearably White,” a song about a dying relationship. They even played “Jonathan Low,” a 2010 song they did for Twilight: Eclipse, because of course a band named Vampire Weekend participated in the greatest cultural vampire phenomenon of their heyday.
“I couldn’t even bother to look up which Twilight movie it was,” Koenig joked to the crowd after finishing.
The band also covered Bruce Springsteen’s “Streets of Philadelphia” and took requests for the encore, during which the crowd practically willed “Oxford Comma” into being played.
Vampire Weekend’s strength has always been its ability to balance having a distinct, recognizable sound with putting out songs that sound new and interesting — something they can accomplish in part because they are very good musicians. It was exhilarating to watch Koenig play riffs with new touring guitarist Brian Robert Jones, while longtime drummer Chris Tomson, who swapped out a soccer kit for a Kevin Durant Nets jersey for the encore, tackled tricky rhythm sections.
The band played under a giant inflatable globe that rotated (quickly or slowly depending on the song) throughout the concert. It practically begged to be detached from its cables and rolled out for the fans to play with as they danced, and during the encore, two smaller inflatable globes emerged from backstage to everyone’s glee.
“I don’t think we could’ve had a better first show back,” Koenig said as two girls waved tiny stuffed mice at him from the front row. “It definitely won’t be six years before we come back.”