Only God Was Above Us at Vampire Weekend’s Eclipse Show

The “Cocaine Cowboys” celebrated new album at high noon

Vampire Weekend at Moody Amphitheater on April 8 (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Two equally unlikely events: That Austin would fall within a solar eclipse’s path of totality, and that the NYC-launched, Beverly Hills-based band Vampire Weekend would perform here at noon on a Monday.

When the two coalesced at the Moody Amphitheater this week, the band, the crowd, and the dozens of unlucky fans without tickets – watching from atop a parking garage across the street – knew it would never happen again, and celebrated accordingly throughout a pummeling two-hour set.

Fully committed to the bit, Ezra Koenig and company provided free, branded eclipse glasses, sold event-specific T-shirts, and walked onstage to Bonnie Tyler’s “Total Eclipse of the Heart.” Founding drummer Chris Tomson and percussionist Garrett Ray played dual drum kits, with custom artwork depicting an anthropomorphic sun and moon.

Still, the concert arose from more than a celestial gimmick. Koenig, Tomson, and bassist Chris Baio released their fifth album, Only God Was Above Us, last week, and Austin marked their tour kickoff show. Koenig’s 40th birthday, another April 8 milestone, thickened the afternoon’s air of jubilation.

Joined by touring musicians Ray, Colin Killalea, Ray Suen, and Will Canzoneri, the trio dedicated equal time to each of their records, charting their evolution from Afrobeat-inspired preps to folk-singing fathers with the help of several texturing instruments. Killalea’s squealing saxophone dominated Only God cut “Classical,” while Suen, on pedal steel and violin, especially beefed up Father of the Bride bop “Sunflower.” Canzoneri held down the band’s ever-present piano.

Colin Killalea (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

After a run of classics – “Cape Cod Kwassa Kwassa” and “Diane Young” among them – Koenig wondered if his audience would know his next track before backpedaling. “This is a pretty hardcore crowd,” he admitted, admiring fans’ tour shirts “spanning all eras of Vampire Weekend history.” (Mr. Rashida Jones himself repped Blind Melon.) Case in point, diehards instantly recognized “Jonathan Low,” the band’s soundtrack contribution to – of course – the 2010 Twilight franchise film Eclipse.

Koenig got the order wrong: Eclipse is the saga’s third installment, not second. He was right to proclaim afterward, “We should play that one more often.” Anticipating the 1:35pm totality, the band left the stage for an eclipse intermission.

Left to their own devices, the crowd – split about 80-20 between out-of-towners and locals, based on a Koenig-initiated poll – willed the moon out from behind the clouds with a sea of howls, then erupted into cheers when the sun’s rays finally, briefly, shone like a fiery pinhole.

The solar eclipse during Vampire Weekend's set (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Eclipse quickly engulfed by clouds, the sevenpiece returned about nine minutes later with a slew of special guests. First up, Koenig introduced Thomas Mars, whose group Phoenix he hailed as “one of the absolute greatest bands of the 21st century.” The pair duetted the Koenig-featuring Alpha Zulu track “Tonight” before Vampire Weekend two-stepped through Chromeo’s “Needy Girl,” alongside singer David “Dave 1” Macklovitch. In between, Mars and the Montreal-born Macklovitch treated Koenig to “Happy Birthday,” in French. Ending the trifecta, guitarist Brian Robert Jones – who toured with VW from 2018 to 2022 before joining Paramore’s live ranks – emerged to rip a solo on “Harmony Hall.”

This freewheeling energy peaked during the gig’s final act, when the band launched from earliest hits “Oxford Comma” and “A-Punk” into never-before-played territory. Debuting a medley Koenig dubbed “Cocaine Cowboys,” the artists mashed up original track “Married in a Gold Rush” with Larry Gatlin’s “All the Gold in California,” the Flying Burrito Brothers’ “Sin City,” and Grateful Dead’s “Cumberland Blues,” swaying between spoken-word passages and VW’s classically funky, arpeggiated guitar lines to the beat of a countrified drum shuffle.

Chris Tomson (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

Even more inexplicable, the medley coincided with a game show interlude when guitar tech Josh Goldsmith came out to play a round of eclipse cornhole. “We feel like there’s not enough prizes at concerts,” Koenig explained. Ultimately, the gag proved a vehicle for the vocalist to play Willy Wonka and throw gold-wrapped chocolate bars to the crowd.

Wrapping up but not winding down, Koenig concluded, “There’s only one thing left to do now: Play ‘Walcott.’” After noting the band’s climb of the “Moody steps” – Monday’s Moody Amphitheater gig followed a 2019 Austin City Limits taping at the Moody Theater, while the outfit hits the Moody Center in October – the artists inspired audience-wide pogoing with a fervent rendition of the 2008 track.

Despite cloudy skies bringing a near-immediate end to the hyped-up blotting of the sun, the jam-happy soundtrackers offered more than enough to look at. Their career-long blend of pop, prep, and pageantry made them surprisingly well-suited eclipse attendants. Only God Was Above Us, indeed.

Ezra Koenig (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

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