Indie

Why More Bands Should Take Audience Requests Like Vampire Weekend Does

Let’s get one thing out of the way: Vampire Weekend’s current Father Of The Bride tour is simply incredible. At the Hollywood Bowl on Wednesday night, the band played a career-spanning 30-song setlist over the course of two-and-a-half hours.

For a group that hasn’t been shy about experimenting with more jam band arrangments and live tricks — Jampire Weekend if you will — the band’s respect for the big stages they are playing puts them in the same conversation with any legacy rock band that’s successfully made the jump to music institution. In the indie world, many balk at this opportunity, content to play the same sets every night, to get out in 90 minutes, to forget their past work in favor of their most recent. But Vampire Weekend perform as if they realize their own importance in the musical canon, a walk-the-walk attitude that makes all the accolades feel very much deserved.

And in a concert full of highlights — Danielle Haim guested for a trio of Father Of The Bride tunes while her sisters sat in for one, the intro to “White Sky” complete with finger-focused videography, a stunning “Hannah Hunt” — Vampire Weekend is currently bringing back a live music trope that feels like a rarity. During the encore, bandleader Ezra Koenig opened the floor up for song requests, a task that’s even more wildly ambitious when you consider he was performing in front of more than 16,000 people. But after the obligatory everyone-yells-at-once moment, Koenig handled the moment like a pro, picking out specific people and assuring their choice by calling out how they were dressed.

One man with a Richard Pictures shirt got to request “Boston (Ladies Of Cambridge)” — Richard Pictures was one of the opening acts, a Grateful Dead cover band with a name that plays on “dick pics” — while a pair of women in pink hats joined together to request “Giving Up The Gun.” One woman was thwarted when she went too obscure and requested a performance of Koenig’s duet with Karen O from the film Her, “The Moon Song,” but landed her follow-up request, Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back In Town.” How anyone goes from “The Moon Song” to “The Boys Are Back In Town” in their cerebral musical Rolodex is beyond me, but the band was happy to play just a single verse and chorus of the latter, with Koenig not having the heart to go much further.

Looking back at the setlists from other recent concerts show that this is becoming a staple of the Vampire Weekend tour, with everything from their Bruce Springsteen cover of “I’m Goin’ Down” to virtually any song from their back catalog on the table for potential usage. As it feels more and more common for artists to stick with rigid setlists or, at best, slight variations on the same nightly show, Vampire Weekend have seemingly rehearsed most of the songs that the band has recorded. That might not seem like the biggest deal for a group with only four albums, but there is something deeply encouraging to know that the band holds their own songs in the same regards that their audience does.

VW is obviously not the only band still incorporating audience requests. Okkervil River recently went on a club tour where the setlists were entirely fan chosen, while everyone from Pearl Jam to Green Day has been known for honoring their fans’ input, be it for impromptu moments or a designated portion of the set dedicated for a song to be chosen on the spot. It’s understandable why this is less possible in the pop world, as shows with extravagant costumes and choreography demand a tighter ship. But even Taylor Swift’s Reputation run found a way to keep each show special, not with requests but with a different acoustic number performed each night.

Concerts are often a way for music fans to feel communion and solidarity, to be among a group of hundreds or thousands of people that share a singular interest. But it’s also a time to feel a kinship with the performers and to know that the music being played is as sacred to the people on stage as it is to those in the audience. When Vampire Weekend asks fans what songs they want to hear, there is a supreme generosity in the fact that they’ve taken the time to learn to competently play so many of their own songs. In many ways, the Father Of The Bride tour is an ode to practice, to musicianship, to turning three-minute, poppy, indie songs into marquee moments. There’s no better way for an artist to show the audience that they care about their fans than to show just how much they care about their music.

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