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Review: Vampire Weekend spreads its wings in Dallas

Posted 12:16am on Thursday, Oct. 07, 2010

DALLAS -- Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig was adamant: "That's what these big rooms are for -- to move around in."

Although he was playing the role of gracious host, encouraging Wednesday night's nearly sold-out crowd to take advantage of the Palladium Ballroom's space and dance like crazy, Koenig might just as well have been underscoring his band's rapid ascent to the forefront of the tumultuous indie rock scene. The "big rooms" Vampire Weekend finds itself playing these days are a far cry from the cram-packed clubs of just a few months ago, yet Vampire Weekend doesn't skimp on intensity. The New York-based foursome played the Palladium with as much energy as they did the Parish in Austin, where I first saw them two years ago.

In four extraordinarily busy years, Vampire Weekend has morphed from too-hip Columbia University scenesters handing out CD-Rs into a global phenomenon with endless months on the road and two critically acclaimed albums under its belt. During a brisk, 75-minute set Wednesday, Koenig and his bandmates underscored the value of that relentless touring (indeed, they just passed through the House of Blues in March).

Although both of Vampire Weekend's records -- its 2008 self-titled debut and this year's Contra -- revel in a sort of Wes Anderson-ian precocity and precision, the songs take on a more ragged, almost bellicose energy in concert.

Tracks like the opener, Holiday (from Contra), or Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa explode with a few thousand voices singing along. The palpable excitement of the fans and their boisterous contributions leaven whatever prep school air the band cultivates; even the Brooks Brothers set likes to cut loose now and again.

The cumulative effect was reassuring. Here stood a band that landed on the cover of Spin before it had even released a single album. The hype in 2008 bordered on suffocating, yet the hipsters have since, for the most part, moved on to the next hot thing. That provided Vampire Weekend a moment to breathe, a chance to find its way somewhat away from the glare of the spotlight. Although Contra first struck me as a knottier, not as immediately pleasing work, seeing the quartet lace into cuts from the album in concert, there was no less immediacy or vibrancy.

Watching them work a bigger room (next stop: Verizon Theatre?), it wasn't hard to picture them lasting well beyond some of their contemporaries, many of whom have faltered or proven to be a flash in the pan.

If Vampire Weekend's energy was directed outward, co-headliner Beach House's was turned inward. Much as they did during their first sold-out stint in Dallas, earlier this year at the Granada Theater, the Baltimore dream-pop duo (augmented by a pair of touring musicians live) conjured reveries draped in darkness. Victoria Legrand's steel wool coo seemed stronger this time around; epics like Zebra and Take Care burst like subdued fireworks in the back-lighted, pyramid-strewn murk.

BONUS: Here are some video clips I shot at the Palladium of Vampire Weekend, Beach House and the opener, the Very Best.

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