Maybe it was the 34-year-old D.C. native’s celestial singing voice; maybe it was the three-song encore; maybe it was the violin quartet and drum synthesizer that mimicked and recreated sounds so elegantly; maybe it was the projector displaying ethereal milieus of desert roads, cityscapes and barren skies. Whatever it was, it left a line of anxious fandom, trying to get a word, a touch and a memory with Rostam.
On Feb. 13, former Vampire Weekend front-man and multi-instrumentalist Rostam Batmanglij, better known by his first name, performed at Madison’s High Noon Saloon as a part of his Half-Light Tour, named after his 2017 release. Preceded by Philadelphia Indie pop group Joy Again, Rostam brought forth one of Madison’s most memorable shows this year.
Joy Again welcomed the filled crowd with a wonderful introduction. Playing their top hits, including songs from their 2017 release entitled EP, Joy Again provided a slender mix of upbeat rhythms and lonely sounds. While there was not much stage movement, the band did engage with the crowd several times. In a humorous moment, they asked the crowd if they were “here to see Rostam.” After a reply of caws and shrieks, lead singer and guitarist Arthur Shea replied, “Well ya should’ve said something then! For a second I thought we were on the wrong tour.”
Joy Again’s solid performance left the crowd ravenous for Rostam. After a 27-minute wait, Rostam appeared on stage alongside a quartet of violins and a drummer. The lights dimmed down as a peculiar image of a starry night appeared on a projector behind him. He then started singing the soft words of the last song of Half-Light, “Don’t Let It Get to You (Reprise).” Instantly, it felt as if the air circulating dissipated; the only things traveling through the atmosphere was Rostam and the five others on stage.
For the next hour, Rostam did not disappoint. After the reprise, Rostam performed 13 songs, three of them being a part of a whooping encore. Overall, ten songs came from Half-Light, the best being “Wood.” An array of powerful 808 drums, light string strokes and an Iranian-style rhythm had people swaying, kissing and hugging as Rostam sang “And I lay inside a field/ Beneath a cherry tree/ And listen to the grass/ And horses as they pass.” In addition to the songs from Half-Light, Rostam performed the Vampire Weekend song “Young Lion,” the Discovery song “It’s Not My Fault (It’s my Fault)” and a cover of 1971 Nick Drake record “Pink Moon.”
Rostam is the master of genre: acoustic, electronica, pop and R&B all make cameos in his music. Fortunately, for those in attendance, it all came out in his set. His performance at High Noon Saloon was one to never forget.