I went to see Vampire Weekend at the Ambassador last week. They were great, in their inoffensive, poppy way, but two things struck me about the crowd. One: girls no longer have to wear sensible shoes to gigs these days. Some day I will write a post about the difference in dressing for gigs when I was a teenager and dressing for gigs now – back then, you only wore shoes you didn’t care too much about damaging, because about 2000 people would have stood on your toes by the time the gig was over, and you pretty much always came home with bruised shins.And two: the (very youthful) audience were really, really into the band. To an extent that kind of baffled me. Because much as I like Vampire Weekend’s jolly Afrobeat-influenced preppy pop, I can’t imagine them inspiring such genuine passion in anyone. But the crowd were singing along to ‘Mansard Roof’ with such enthusiasm that you could barely hear the actual band. And they sang along to all the guitar riffs as well, which was really annoying and part of the reason why the new unreleased tracks were the best part of the night.
I wasn’t sure, at first, why I was so surprised by all this passionate devotion. But I was talking about it with H.R. Costigan afterwards and he said maybe we were both bewildered by the crowd’s enthusiasm because Vampire Weekend – or at least their public personas – are not outsiders. They’re smart, sophisticated rich kid hipsters and that’s reflected in their music. They don’t come across as being in any way insecure. They’re not weirdos or rebels. Their moods seem to range from jaunty to bittersweet. In other words, they are not like the average mopey teen. Does anyone seriously sit in their rooms listening to ‘Oxford Comma’ (a song I totally love, by the way), thinking “only Vampire Weekend understand me!”? Do they stomp forlornly home in the rain listening to ‘Blake’s Got a New Face’ like I used to listen to ‘Please, Please, Please Let Me Get What I Want’ as a preposterously-angsty-for-no-real-reason 16 year old? I just can’t imagine it.
So what bands were you slavishly devoted to as a tiny teen? For me it was primarily (and in chronological order) REM (first band I loved that didn’t, like my other 13-year-old faves the Smiths or Lloyd Cole, originally “belong” to my big sister, and the first band I ever saw live, in 1989. They’d lost me by 1992, but I still have a huge soft spot for their early stuff), Throwing Muses (the first time I heard the sort of music I loved being sung by a girl. It had a HUGE effect on me), P.J. Harvey (she sounded so young on Dry, and the music was so ferocious. I used to listen to that album on my walkman in bed every night for several months back in 1992), Blur (I know, I know. I am one of about five people who bought and loved Popscene in ’92 – I’ve never been able to resist noisy songs with trumpets – and when Modern Life is Rubbish came out, a few weeks before I did my Leaving Cert, it was the perfect soundtrack to the imaginary ’60s film that I wanted my life to be like) and Suede (I had never heard much vintage Bowie so I thought those first three singles were utterly original and thrilling and sexy. They turned out to be the band’s musical highpoint, but they’re still fantastic songs. You’re taking me ovah, indeed! Suede’s first Irish gig at the Tivoli in early 1993 remains the most hysterical concert I’ve ever attended).
Of course, I loved loads and loads of other bands in my teens, some of which I still love now. I used to lie in the garden in the summer listening to Nick Drake and feeling sorry for myself; I would listen devotedly to the Pixies and play the bassline of ‘Gigantic’ for hours on end on my dad’s guitar. The bands I listed above are just some of the ones to whom I felt that strong personal connection that makes audiences shriek like 10,000 maniacs (I liked them as well when I was 13. Oh dear). So now I’ve revealed the objects of my teenage devotion, how about you? What band did you greet with the level of hysteria mystifyingly shown by Vampire Weekend fans?