Kurt Vile and The Violators' show at Wellington’s Hunter Lounge last Saturday night was something of a surprise to me. Not for any sonic reason - the Philadelphian singer sounded pretty much just as expected based on his recent string of albums, and the band’s playing was faithful to the recordings. What surprised me was how much I enjoyed it. I do like Vile’s recorded work, but I was wondering, as I dragged myself up the gnarly hill to the venue, if his unrelenting mid-tempo ‘chillness’ would have much of a live impact over the course of a full set.
I needn’t have worried. Watching Vile hunched over his guitar on stage, famous long brown curls covering his whole face except his nose, and the band chugging along a lot like Crazy Horse, you’re drawn into this world of hazy sunny groove, and it’s a lovely world to spend time in. The plodding rhythms, long songs and simple repetitive chord progressions are almost hypnotic after a time.
The band kicked straight into it with Loading Zones, the lead single from recent album Bottle It In. Then it was back to his breakthrough album Smoke Ring For My Halo with the track Jesus Fever. The Violators currently consist of Jesse Trbovich and Rob Laakso trading bass, guitar and keyboard duties, and Kyle Spence on drums. They sounded great - particularly the tight drums with a super punchy snare sound.
Many of the songs which I wasn’t familiar with blended into one, as I had predicted of the set, sharing similar rhythms, tempos, and chord progressions, but this didn’t actually detract from the experience at all. Instead, the single-mindedness seemed to draw everyone deeper into Kurt Vile’s musical world.
The set also drew attention to an aspect that I often overlooked in his recordings, which is Vile’s guitar solos. His messy Neil Young-esque crunch was an absolute delight - and really ramped up the already-strong Crazy Horse vibe the whole band were giving off (never a bad thing in my opinion.)
I’m trying not to use the same descriptions over and over again, but Vile’s music lends itself to such repeat comparisons - so screw it, this was the most Neil Young moment any Neil Young fan could want.
Vile donned a banjo for I’m An Outlaw, before turning up the sludgy riffs with the grungey Check Baby. A few songs later, the band left the stage for Stand Inside, a beautiful acoustic fingerpicking performance from Vile that displayed his songwriting at its best.
The lengthy jam Wakin’ On A Pretty Day felt like the natural final pinnacle of the set, with Vile losing us in a fantastic extended guitar solo (he really is one of the more interesting guitarists that have the ability to make longer solos effective.) I’m trying not to use the same descriptions over and over again, but Vile’s music lends itself to such repeat comparisons - so screw it, this was the most Neil Young moment any Neil Young fan could want.
It didn’t end there though - we got a couple more mid-tempo rockers before the main set wrapped up with the homely acoustic strum of Wild Imagination.
The band were soon back. Mutinies from the new album didn’t seem like the encore that most of the crowd were hoping for, with its chopping time signature and long repetitive nature, but I enjoyed its trance-like quality. Pretty Pimpin’ certainly was what they were waiting for, of course, the inevitable closer. Vile sang his biggest hit with pointedly lazy and wandering delivery, perhaps reacting to its popularity, but he only made it more enjoyable and personal. A great way to end.
I’d been hoping to hear Baby’s Arms at some point, but you can’t have everything. It was a fun concert, and the sound was fab. It was also one of those concerts where you leave feeling that you’ve had a strong experience of a solo artist’s identity, staged or not. Kurt Vile’s distinctive vocals, striking image and stage presence, and specific recycled musical features all built up to create an immersive kind of experience of the artist, despite him not saying much beyond some incoherent mumblings. And that’s what a gig should do.
- Loading Zones
- Jesus Fever
- I’m An Outlaw
- Check Baby
- Girl Called Alex
- Cold Was The Wind
- Stand Inside
- Yeah Bones
- Wakin’ On A Pretty Day
- KV Crimes
- Puppet To The Man
- Wild Imagination
- Pretty Pimpin’