'Wisdom's a gift, but you'd trade it for youth," Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend sang on the Skyline Stage of the Mann Center for the Performing Arts on Thursday. "Age is an honor, but it's still not the truth."
Since releasing its debut album in 2008, Vampire Weekend have fit the definition of a postcollegiate indie-pop band. Famously, the four members met while matriculating at Columbia University. It's likely that the words "Ivy League" have appeared alongside the band's name more than any other act in the history of rock-and-roll.
Next year, however, Koenig turns 30, and the days of carefree folly are dwindling. Modern Vampires in the City, the band's new album, one of the standout releases of 2013, is the band's third, following the from-indie-to-the-mainstream successes of Vampire Weekend and 2010's Contra. It expands on the band's mix of perky New Wave and Afrobeat while looking maturity in the eye and getting prematurely death-obsessed.
Under a moonlit sky before a sold-out crowd on Thursday, the Universal Pictures movie-promoting Despicablimp hung overhead like a non sequitur for the band's first Philadelphia show since Modern Vampires' release in May. (The band headlined the Firefly festival in Delaware this summer.)
Guitarist Koenig, multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij, drummer Chris Tomson, and bass player Chris Baio have been on the festival circuit all summer and are in impressive, mid-tour form. They opened up their brisk, vise-tight, deftly played set with the new album's "Diane Young."
It's a typical new Vampire Weekend tune. The intricately rhythmic song bursts with life. The rat-a-tat of Tomson's drums and Koenig's hiccoughing vocal were emphasized by flashing lights on a stage set with floral wallpaper and faux Roman column backdrop.
"Diane Young" is a song that you can - and the enthusiastic audience did - dance to. But it's also a play on "dyin' young." "Nobody knows what the future holds, and it's bad enough just getting old," Koenig sang, putting his English major to use referencing Dylan Thomas: "So grab the wheel, keep holding it tonight / Till you're tottering off into that good night."
Singer and model Sky Ferreira opened with a set of murky, keyboard-driven songs drawn mostly from her coming album, Night Time, My Time. The 21-year-old songwriter's performance came less than a week after she and boyfriend Zachary Cole Smith of the band DIIV were arrested in Saugerties, N.Y., where she was charged with possession of ecstasy and resisting arrest. (Smith was charged with heroin possession and numerous vehicle violations, and the duo were released on bail.)
Ferreira's legal troubles were not mentioned, but they did give biographical context to her convincing, emotionally fraught delivery of the musical cry for help "Nobody Asked Me (If I Was Okay)."