For the belligerently preppy Vampire Weekend and their music, which oscillates around an idea of summer-house north-eastern America, an old cinema in the heart of London's east-end might not seem a most natural alighting point for the band’s new album.
But inside the art deco surrounds of the huge former cinema and, er, bingo hall, things start to make sense as the New Yorkers drill through their already impressive back catalogue. They’re sharp, but adaptable.
Vampire Weekend are here as part of a burst of publicity for their third record, the dismally-titled Modern Vampires of the City (it’s from Junior Reid’s “One Blood”). It’s been a long time coming, but initial signs, such as the hopscotch-giddy, brilliant first single “Diane Young” suggest.
But this isn’t solely a show to plug the new gear, the band reel through the likes of “Horchata”, “A-Punk” and “Oxford Comma” with enough gusto to make the room bump like it did in the days of full houses at Mecca. Ezra Koenig, though hardly chatty, is a coolly expressive frontman, slow-jamming his way through slower tracks, like the encore-opening “Obvious Bicycle” while sending the crowd’s eyes on a merry dance with his wandering right hand when it’s not hitting his guitar strings.
The back of the stage is covered with a giant screen of flowers which, though it might be aiming more for Peter Saville and Power, Corruption and Lies, looks a little bit more Cath Kidston. Oh well. It’s probably the only thing that Koenig and co misjudge tonight. Or, in general. They’re smart enough to have developed an identity, style and persona that sticks but doesn’t strait-jacket them musically. They’re unique but have left themselves enough wriggle-room, musically, to surprise.
Having previously been – in a very self-aware way – quite a musically straight band, there are hints in the tracks here from Modern Vampires of the City (released on Monday) that things are getting a bit weirder. “Diane Young” is a case in point, with the its quirky Animal Collective-like squawks and deliberate vocal muddles accentuated by the New Yorkers’ live set-up. Its lyrics, though, are quintessential Vampire Weekend: “Irish and proud, baby, naturally; but you got the luck of a Kennedy”. They’re hard not to find charming.
Perhaps the strongest elements of their show are a surprisingly bulky sound built around Chris Tomson’s drums that. It’s beefed up even their most sonically lightweight (albeit excellent) tracks like “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa”. They’re also excellent at ending things. Specifically individual songs, which more often than not snap to an end with a literary urgency, in which the after-shock of silence feels like part of the song. It doesn’t last long, though. Those chasms are soon filled with booms of applause.