Former Vampire Weekend singer Rostam Batmanglij delivers raw performance at Pomona

Rostam Batmanglij, formerly of Vampire Weekend, performed songs from his debut solo album “Half-Light” at Pomona College’s Bridges Hall of Music March 13. Courtesy: Moses via Wikipedia Commons

When songwriter Rostam Batmanglij left Vampire Weekend in 2016, he said via Twitter that his “identity as a songwriter + producer … needs to stand on its own.” At the time, nobody knew exactly what that meant — for Vampire Weekend, for their fans or for Batmanglij.

But March 13, Batmanglij revealed his new, singular identity to the Claremont community. His performance at Pomona College’s Bridges Hall of Music was stripped down, with no professional lighting, no fancy background and just a few musicians: one cellist, three violinists, one percussionist and Batmanglij on guitar and microphone.

There was something uniquely earnest about Batmanglij’s performance. At one point, he stopped and bantered with a student who was controlling the lights about making them darker. It felt as though Batmanglij, as an artist, was simultaneously seeing the night through the lens of an indie rock star, as well as one who remembers the feeling of being young and in college as a distant present.

I could feel this particular reckoning with time as he played an instrumental version of “Campus,” a song he wrote at 22 years old for the first Vampire Weekend album. The song is about being in college, hooking up with someone, seeing them across the campus and asking yourself, “How am I supposed to pretend / I never want to see you again?”

Before Batmanglij played the song, he said he couldn’t imagine performing at Pomona without singing it. “Campus” was moving and raw — it was stripped down to fit his accompaniment and matched the instrumental he used when he originally wrote the song.

The audience gripped onto the memory of the song’s original release — the one with all of Vampire Weekend, a faster tempo, a different voice. They learned to also embrace the honest version, the one Batmanglij still clings to — his telling of history. It was just enough to make you notice the distance between him and the subject of the song, but also the lingering familiarity of that moment in time.

The space between the two versions of the same song was just enough to make the audience feel the artistic change within Batmanglij, identifying him as someone who is willing to reclaim the past.  

Spencer Hammersmith PO ’19 was particularly touched by this, especially because he will be graduating soon. He said the rendition of “Campus” was “beautiful.”

As I watched Batmanglij go from singing newer songs like “Half-Light” to older songs like “Campus,” and then back into his new work, it gave me an odd sense of hope for life after college. The protagonist of “Campus” seemed fragile, shy in his affection, but Batmanglij’s newer work shows that he has grown into someone who isn’t afraid to be in love, acknowledge endings and embrace complexities.

Olivia McGrath SC ’22 felt a sense of nostalgia from the performance, as the concert combined Rostam’s old and new work as well as music from her own childhood.

“Old time medieval folk songs like ‘Simple Gifts,’ which I learned to sing in my fifth-grade choir, were used,” she said. “It was really interesting how he blended those in with Persian music and the indie folk of Vampire Weekend … it was very beautiful.”

Batmanglij was able to accomplish what I believe all great artwork aims to do — he was able to capture the feeling of time. Sitting there watching him perform, it felt as though the ticking clock stopped for just long enough for the audience to breathe and appreciate the beauty of every moment, heartbreak, confusion, joy and despair that somehow landed us all there. His music is a time stamp of everything we have all been through.

Anna Koppelman PZ ’22 is just a lone girl trying her hardest to make Nora Ephron proud. If you are looking for her, she’s probably either listening to the newest Vampire Weekend songs or promising one of her friends that she is about to start meditating again “really soon.”

This article was last updated March 24, 2019 at 10:45 to ensure Associated Press Style conformity.

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