Paintings and photographs were not the only art on display Saturday (February 3) at The Museum of Fine Arts. Nearly four months after he released his solo debut, Rostam Batmanglij, or Rostam, as he goes by on the stage, delivered an hour-long performance at the museum’s Remis Auditorium. And it was incredible.
The venue’s nature — green auditorium seats all facing down toward a stage and screen — created an intimacy that complemented Rostam’s subtly charming music. The ex-Vampire Weekend part-axeman/songwriter/everythingman started the show with “Don’t Let It Get to You (Reprise),” the final song of his September debut Half-Light, and set a casual mood for the evening. He tossed jokes around and wore a constant smile when he introduced numbers.
Rostam ripped through songs from the album without hesitation after taking the stage at nearly 8:30 p.m. After three songs, he picked up his black Gibson semi-hollow guitar, with a fair share of wear and tear evident in its exposed wood, and introduced “Wood,” a track that sounded like a Modern Vampires of the City b-side that had the luxury of fermenting in a producer’s mind for years. The song’s guitar solo was clear and crisp and tip-toed its way around the beat as the string section faded and eventually only the kick drum and guitar remained. The rest of the band joined after the solo in a tightness akin to a jazz band and the song ended in a joyous sing-along-esque fashion before the crowd erupted in applause and someone shouted “so beautiful.”
Then there was a pause. “Okay, I’m going back in time,” Rostam said, and before anyone in the crowd could shout anything back at him, the band started playing “Young Lion,” a Vampire Weekend song from the band’s third album. Rostam requested the house lights be turned off for a cinematic feel and he kept the mood for the next song, too. The audience supplied radio silence and it anchored down the cinema feeling.
Towards the end of his set, Rostam left the stage after playing “Gwan,” but only for a couple of minutes before returning and playing a three song encore: A new song that sounded like one of the more orchestral songs on the band’s first record with a flare of Jack Johnson courtesy of a mandolin, a cover of Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon,” and Half-Light’s album closer, “Don’t Let It Get To You.”
In many ways, the concert was an art experience. The screen behind the band displayed different projections relevant to the music and the crowd stood still in seats, almost as if the music was arresting (Rostam asked everyone to stand for the absolute last song). The music itself evoked different sensations — some beats got feet tapping, other arrangements underneath his angelic voice got some minds looking pensive.
Also, it was literally in a museum.
It’s not enough to say Rostam is a talented musician and a heartful singer. He articulates some of the most human moments we have with the classical music whit of a string section and the popping percussion of any song on the charts. On this night, that ability was in full effect as he capitalized on a human moment in front of a sold-out crowd.
Photos by Alejandro Serrano for Vanyaland; follow him on Twitter @serrano_alej.