"What's up, Seattle?" Rostam said from the stage at Neumos. It was a Monday night, two and a half weeks ago. "This is a pretty good crowd for a Monday night."
Pretty good? The place was packed. The last time I'd seen Rostam at Neumos—10 years ago, the first time Vampire Weekend came through town—I, knowing nothing, filed him away as "the keyboard player." Of course, he was so much more than the keyboard player. He also produced the band's first album all by himself (and later the second album, Contra, all by himself), plus he co-wrote the songs with Erza Koenig, and he played guitar, and he contributed to vocals. Two years after he quit Vampire Weekend, it's clear how much of a hand he had in crafting Vampire Weekend's sound.
I fill with tenderness and wonder and awe when I'm walking through the city and this song comes on. It's a love song, but it's unclear what's going on. "Who are the two boys?" I kept thinking the first few times I heard it. Must be nice, two boyfriends. And then I looked at the lyrics and went: This is more complicated than I thought.
What do I mean? Well, the switching back and forth from first to second person, the mysterious phrase "I see another of myself," the effortless rhymes ("You're sore from the night before / From knocking on my door / Your head against the floor boards"), the questions these words raise. Are the "two boys" in question actually the singer and someone else? Or is he the two boys? Is this a song about the different sides of ourselves that are expressed when we're around different people? Or is it about the different people we are throughout time—the him today versus the him from long ago?
There are mysteries in these lyrics I love living inside of. The words radiate multiple meanings at once while also being casual, concrete, and vivid.
A few more lyrics from the song:
Before I leave I want to try to go back in time
To just that moment in my life where I should have spoke up but I lied.
As I sat there with my jaw open and I smiled
He pulled his sweater off and tried to explain he'd all but given up on love.
I'm pulled away, I see another of myself who's found true love and happiness
To sit and smoke there on the chair.
Beside the bed I read this past week's New Yorker
And I watch him paint Antarctica, and watch him paint Antarctica
"Getting to the West Coast is kind of sad because it means it's the end of the tour. But it's also exciting because we also made it to Seattle," he said, chuckling, as if Seattle were Siberia.
Throughout the show, there were projections and colorful washes of pink, purple, blue, and red light. But there was never a spotlight on his face. He accepted applause by scrunching up his face as if he'd just tasted a lemon. His shyness was utterly charming. Think about the music, don't think about me, he seemed to be saying.
"Can I get it totally dark in here? Can we get a vibe going?" he asked the lighting guys at one point, and they obliged, even though it was already pretty dark. At another point, he taught the crowd to sing a simple "Bah bah bum / Bah bah hum" to accompany him. After the song, a friend of mine in the crowd, surprised by what had just happened, leaned over and whispered, "He got bitchy Seattle to sing along!"
There were no rock instruments onstage, just string instruments (three people on violin, one person on cello) and a percussionist with an electronic drum kit. One of the songs from Half-Light, "Never Going to Catch Me," took on stirring new dimensions when it was played live. On the album, it's a solid arrangement but not a standout. In person, it had an old-world, almost primal hugeness to it—tension, release, tension, release... It seemed to have a heartbeat. Or maybe that was my heart, beating along to the percussion—my enraptured, spellbound, smitten heart.
Want to watch one more video? Here he is singing the title track off Half-Light at a KEXP concert back in October.