Photo by Karl Beck
w/Arlie, Sam Bush
On Friday night, Rostam Batmanglij made his first visit to St. Louis as a solo artist. He’s already been around the world as a member of his former band, Vampire Weekend. Playing keys and guitar, he also served as the producer for their breakout self-titled album and the acclaimed follow-up Contra. Vampire Weekend exploded onto the NYC indie-rock scene in 2007 and then onto the national radar with unprecedented speed. The production of their full-length album couldn’t keep up with the bands popularity—thanks to blogs and MP3 downloads, they made the cover of Spin magazine (before even releasing their first album) and appeared on Saturday Night Live shortly thereafter.
By 2011, Batmanglij was beginning to do some solo work, on tracks that would eventually find their way onto his 2017 album Half-Light. He released the songs “Wood” and “Don’t Let it Get to You” as singles in late 2011. He released the tracks as simply Rostam, emblazoned with his name in Persian just as it would appear on the Half-Light cover six years later.
I’m a big Vampire Weekend fan, as many of the other Rostam fans undoubtably are. But this isn’t the type of solo appearance that allows Rostam to fall back on the successful tunes of his former band. He’s building his own following from the ground up, with music that’s just similar enough to have a broad appeal with Vampire Weekend fans, while taking them in a distictly different direction.
Backed by a string quartet and a purcussionist, Rostam took to the stage with a sincere, impassioned presence. The Old Rock House was a great venue for this show, and was filled with a welcoming crowd. I was delighted to have the show include live strings—the warm, sonorous strings on the album are a highlight for me. At times, energetic bursts of strings propelled the songs forward (“Bike Dream,” “Thatch Snow”), at other times the strings took over to envelop listeners in a rich, orchestral sound (“Gwan,” “Wood”).
Rostam’s music is also beat driven, even in its most eclectic and ethereal moments there’s a tendency to keep the beat buoyantly thumping along. The same afrobeat influence that tied together Vampire Weekend’s music was carried on here, especially on “Don’t Let it Get to You” and “Never Going to Catch Me.” (The former was paired with a spare yet affecting cover of Nick Drake’s “Pink Moon,” to wonderful effect.) Batmanglij also utilized the type of electro-pop keyboards he used on Contra, creating a supurb mix of airy keyboards and rhymic beats. Yet another sonic theme came from Rostam’s Persian background as the son of immigrants from Iran. That manifested through Middle Eastern scales and hand drums, most notably on “Wood.”
Rostam managed to mix all those elements swimmingly into a fascinating and beautiful set. So many of his unique experiences, influences, and talents came together on Half-Light. For his fans here in St. Louis, this show was the distintive moment to experience that. | Karl Beck
Photos by Karl Beck. Click to enlarge.