“An important piece of equipment broke down,” is how Vampire Weekend frontman Ezra Koenig described the otherwise unelaborated-upon situation that resulted in some noticeable dithering between a few songs Wednesday at Agganis Arena. But Koenig never got peeved about the technical troubles, largely because he never got worked up in any direction at all. For 80 minutes, he was the very picture of well-heeled politeness as a bulwark against messy abandon.
That pleasant imperturbability created a distance between Koenig and the material, which might be why so many have found it easy to dismiss Vampire Weekend’s songs as tourist music. It’s not just the clean African guitar lines they’ve borrowed; as evidenced by his impassive delivery of the line “Hold me in your everlasting arms,” he even sounds like a tourist when it comes to his emotions. Favorites like “Holiday,” “Oxford Comma,” and “A-Punk” sounded like shrugs (albeit spirited shrugs).
It was Vampire Weekend’s rhythm section that raised the band’s game from merely reserved affability. Chris Tomson’s hyperactive drums in the opening “Cousins” spiked the energy right from the start, and “One (Blake’s Got a New Face)” was buoyed by the machine-gun bursts he’d throw in between verses. He also seemed to be doing most of the heavy lifting on “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” and was the party largely responsible for “Oxford Comma” building in energy, rather than hitting his stride and staying there. But while Tomson was the most musically animated musician on stage, bassist Chris Baio was the most physically animated, bouncing around and, at times, offering smooth and defined little dance movements that would have fit neatly into a Motown revue.
What was worrisome was the set list, as the band played almost as many songs from its debut album as it did from its other two combined. Instead of emphasizing the new album that came out less than 48 hours earlier, the song selection hinted that Vampire Weekend might be afraid that it’s already running out of ideas.
That’s too bad, especially on account of the way that the new “Diane Young” flung itself headlong into its verses. That wasn’t enough to muss Koenig, of course. Even when he broke a string on the chipper beach-rock closer “Walcott,” he simply played through and almost let the driving music take him over. Almost.
Sydney-by-way-of-New-York openers High Highs specialized in a hazy, not-too-intense swell and crash underneath spectral two-part harmonies.Marc Hirsh can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @spacecitymarc.