Vampire Weekend, Ra Ra Riot

Neale Long 30/10/2008

Tonight's gig is one of excited confusion played out by both the acts and audience members alike. A young lad with a Kooks hairstyle frantically bludgeons the bar to the rhythm of Chris Tomson's drum lines through fingers poised as if they were conveying the key parts of Vampire Weekend's own Rostam Batmanglij. T

The Academy's sold out crowd is torn between adhering to the bookish look of sweaters and jeans sported by the acts and dressing like actual vampires (hopefully not just because of the date). But the strangest comparison, however, comes in the similarity of the two lead vocals. Owing to my ill-favoured gigging stature, the inability to see over my neighbour's shoulders could have me convinced that Ezra Koenig had a younger, more attractive, string drenched side project underway. Alas, for all the similarities that can be drawn between Ra Ra Riot and Vampire Weekend - both hailing from New York, both upholding politeness in addressing the crowd that doesn't normally sit so well with songs that thunder along as they do, and both exuding the electricity of VW's raucous early gigs (all us Brits had to go on youtube before the band graced our shores and the hype machine fuelled our appetites) - but the former truly shine through out from the shadow of tonight's headliners.

The six-strong group from Syracuse toe the line in rich melodies executed through the marvellous cello and violin parts that brilliantly free up bass and guitar from the stale bar chords and cold throbbing bass you may expect to hear in New-Wave inflected songs. Touching on elements of chamber pop, this synthesis of instrumentation makes for a more dramatic and engaging, but simultaneously uplifting affair. Alexandra Lawn has a great visual impact in dancing with her cello while the boys look like they are having the time of their lives cavorting around the stage to their tight, orchestral racket. The only blemish in tonight's set is a failure, on the part of the sound people, to communicate some of the more delicate string parts which end up drowning beneath frenetic tom-heavy passages, as well as the majority of the lyrics struggling to be heard by an audience that is more than happy to sing along.

Efforts such as Ghost Under Rocks, with its foreboding intro, grab and hold the attention that this group so rightly deserve. Tonight's outing is a great platform for Ra Ra Riot who will have no doubt won many new admirers. It does seem a pity that they are slightly dwarfed by their touring partners as further exposure to their sublime debut, 'The Rhumb Line' should make them big names in 2009.

When Vampire Weekend bound onstage to resounding applause, the fruit of the songwriting craft of this evening's main attraction is proof why they have been such a hot tip since their debut dropped at the start of the year and further shows how they have managed to keep up the momentum through the festival season and into the present. The band concede that it is their first time before a Liverpool crowd, which through the tempo of their flawless playing, and sheer volume of catchy pop hooks, doesn't make the slightest bit of difference. From the gallop of set-opener Mansard Roof, the eager audience is swept along and hangs on every call-and-response of A-Punk and Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa, every syncopated beat and every Paul Simon-ism- forgoing the need to merely echo the lyrics in providing vocal backing to the melody lines of the songs. The sound levels may have let the support down on occasion, have miraculously come together in ringing out the jangle of the colourful guitar work to sit firmly alongside the diaphanous keyboards which resonate as the proverbial elegance to the busy rumbling of the polyrhythmic drumming which lies beneath the surface, powering the band along. Every song from the album gets a run out and is met with overwhelming admiration, as well as the brace of new tracks, which receive an equally warm reception, pointing towards a promising follow up to what is one of 2008's finest releases.

All in all tonight has been as successful an opener to the '08 Liverpool Music Week as the organisers could have hoped, with VW sending us back into the cold with an encore of Fleetwood Mac's Everywhere which the boys frightfully make their own, before a fervent Walcott leaves us safe in the hope that, while credit is crunching and celebrities are prank calling our grandfather's answering machines, some old friends and some new ones from across the pond will be busy trying to pleasantly lift us from the mire in the year to come.