On Monday, May 8 I had the pleasure of attending the final night of Rostam Batmanglij’s first solo tour. The musician was a long-time member of Vampire Weekend, but publicly announced his departure in January of 2016. Batmanglij has since been working toward producing his first solo album, which he plans to release late this summer.
Even if you’re not a die-hard Vampire Weekend fan like I am, you’ve definitely heard Rostam’s talents throughout his many projects over his ten-year career: Batmanglij released an album as side project Discovery with Ra Ra Riot’s lead Wes Miles in 2009, and later held producer and vocal credits on Ra Ra Riot’s single 2015 “Water”; he composed the score for Netflix’s The OA (which his brother, Zal created and directs); he produced songs for Charlie XCX, Solange, Francis and the Lights, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Frank Ocean; he was recently featured on RAC’s pop track “This Song”; and he collaborated with Hamilton Leithauser (of The Walkmen) for their debut album, I Had A Dream That You Were Mine.
The concert had an exceptionally simple construction in contrast to the complex and intricate arrangement style of most of Rostam’s music. Batmanglij’s opening act Nat Baldwin—old friends, both being past members of indie rock band Dirty Projectors—was a pleasant treat. Baldwin and his standing bass comprised the whole act. In between each of his simple songs, the Portland, Maine native shared some stories of finding himself lost in the streets of Cambridge.
Afterward, Batmanglij strolled in with a skilled four-piece orchestral arrangement to support his soft vocals. His set list included previous singles: “Wood,” “EOS,” and “Don’t Let It Get To You,” which returned for a finale reprise. The audience started small but slowly grew and crowded around the stage for an intimate show. Batmanglij’s voice was clear and balanced the strings beside him. Each song was introduced humbly, preceded with a “here’s the next one.” Rostam’s music ranges from heavily digital to powerfully political; one of the new tracks he premiered, “When,” appeared to be a commentary on the current Middle Eastern refugee situation. Batmanglij’s parents immigrated to the United States from Iran, and his Middle Eastern culture continues to shine through on many of his pieces.
The song I was highly anticipating was “Gwan,” the most recently released single. Its airy strings and soft chorus have joyful springtime vibes. The song has some strong similarities to the style of Vampire Weekend’s third album, Modern Vampires of the City: jumpy violins, gentle piano chords and some friendly self-retrospective lyrics. Hearing “Gwan” live gave me chills, and I found my mouth hanging open in awe at the climactic parts of the song, particularly the broken-down ending.
Of course, Batmanglij can’t leave his Vampire Weekend roots behind: he sang “Young Lion” off of the most recent VW album, Modern Vampires of the City. While Rostam’s serene voice has complemented lead Ezra Koenig’s more nasal-y voice throughout the three albums, “Young Lion” is the only Vampire Weekend track to feature only Rostam. To the audience’s surprise, the song had never been performed live by the band; “Young Lion” has only been heard by attendees of Rostam’s tour
After the show, we exchanged some words with the big man himself. If you haven’t given this wildly accomplished artist a listen, get familiar before his solo album arrives later this year.