On Saturday, September 28th, I had the pleasure of attending a concert at the Hollywood Bowl with the most beautiful woman I’ve ever known, Maile (pronounced MY-Lee). Though I’ve lived in Los Angeles for 7 years, I had yet to attend a show at this historic venue. The lineup was New Mexico’s Beirut followed by headliner Vampire Weekend. I am not very familiar with Beirut’s music, although Maile has played some of their stuff for me. We are both big fans of Vampire Weekend, however, and were very excited to attend (especially Maile).
First, a bit about the venue. It is set in a natural amphitheater in the Hollywood Hills, and the backdrop is gorgeous. It’s easy to see why they call it a bowl. Having a concert in the open air is always a treat for me, as I’m usually stuffed into a cramped, sweaty night club when I want to see a live band. I guess you’d categorize the architecture and sculpture as “art deco”… they are definitely reminiscent of Old Hollywood’s golden age. Everything is white and arched, and lit from behind with neon. The sculptures are very regal, angular, and look very heavy. The Bowl is known for its orchestra shell behind the stage, and the seating is a series of wooden benches going all the way up to the top of the hill. Unfortunately, our seats were almost all the way in the back, but at least we were able to secure tickets as the concert was sold out. Fortunately, there were two large TV screens on either side of the orchestra shell so those in the back could see. Heineken played a big role in the night, as they were the main sponsor. They had banners everywhere. The advertising was a little over the top and a bit of an eyesore if you ask me.
First up was Beirut. I guess you could call them a folk-rock band. In addition to the standard guitar/bass/drums, Beirut had a brass section and an accordion player. The vocalist is the driving force behind the band and is a very talented guy. He sings, plays the ukelele, the piano, and the trumpet (not simultaneously, of course). The music was enjoyable, if a bit slow at times. The concert goers that had found their seats (including Maile and me) relaxed on the benches while they played their set. I was a bit annoyed at the people sitting in our row as they constantly came and went and blocked our view. This went on for the entire set.
Beirut is definitely a more avant-garde band than the pop-oriented Vampire Weekend, but I’m glad to see bands that are willing to experiment find commercial success. The highlight for me was a cover of a traditional folk song called Cocek. I could feel the passion and vibrations all the way from the stage to the top of the Bowl.
Beirut setlist (Click link to purchase the album/MP3): Nantes | Mimizan | Postcards from Italy | East Harlem | Cocek (traditional folk song) | A Sunday Smile | The Akara | The Shrew | Elephant Gun | Cherbourg | Santa Fe | Vagabond | Goshen
There was a half hour intermission, and then Vampire Weekend took the stage to a standing ovation. Everyone rose from their seats and sang along to the opening track, Cousins, which happens to be my personal favorite Vampire Weekend song. The stage was decorated with faux marble columns on either side of a Van Eyck Arnolfini-style mirror prop in the center of the wall. At certain times during the set, the mirror would “reflect” an image relevant to the song. For example, at one point it was an image of King Louis XVI… but I cannot remember which song it was. It was far more subtle than the huge screens at the Black Sabbath concert, but an interesting effect nonetheless. I still don’t know how they did this, but the white wall turned into a floral pattern during the second song.
As for the music, I was a little anxious that their music wouldn’t translate well from the studio to a live setting. Vampire Weekend writes very catchy pop songs with a pinch of Baroque/Rococo harpsichord thrown in for good measure. Though the songs are well-written and well-performed, the listener can tell there’s a lot of work done to them in the studio. I had also seen videos of live performances on YouTube that I felt were a bit underwhelming. My anxiety proved to be unfounded, though, as Vampire Weekend brought the goods and the energy on Saturday night. Some of the songs sounded different due to the live setting, notably Ya Hey (my favorite off the new record). The recorded version has a weird chipmunk voice thing going on during the chorus. The live version tosses it in favor of real, textured background vocals. I think the other factor that amplified my appreciation of the live show was the crowd’s energy. Almost everyone in the Bowl was on their feet, dancing and singing along the whole time. You had the sense of a community, and I enjoyed that aspect very much.
I had a great time at the concert, and so did Maile. The Bowl is a special venue, and I recommend going if you can. Beirut and Vampire Weekend were very enjoyable as well, so check them out if they come to your town. I’m glad I did.
Vampire Weekend setlist (Click link to purchase the album/MP3): Cousins | White Sky | Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa | Diane Young | Unbelievers | Holiday | Step | Horchata | Everlasting Arms | Finger Back | California English | A-Punk | Ya Hey | Don’t Lie | Campus | Oxford Comma | Giving Up the Gun | Obvious Bicycle
Beirut: ★★★ out of 5.
Vampire Weekend: ★★★★ out of 5.
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