Kurt Vile and the Violators play through a smorgasbord of tracks at mid-level wattage but when Vile shows off his musicianship, it really raises the game.
Tonight, the Albert Hall hosts everyone’s favourite long-haired, throwback-rock-hit maker, Kurt Vile and his band The Violators. The Philadelphia born songwriter has seven studio albums to share with the audience, including Bottle It In, released in October to draw even more acclaim for Vile’s already revered career.
Having written hours and hours’ worth of songs, Vile has never drifted far from his one signature sound: stream-of-consciousness lyrics paired with piled layers of guitar haze over steady, road trip rhythms. He may not stray from this style much, but the quality of his music has always been sustained. For his fans, a chance to see live all the laidback, lush tones Vile offers on record for an hour and a half will be hugely anticipated.
By the time the band takes to stage, the room is utterly rammed. The crowd is a combination of men who miss the good old days of guitar music and twenty-somethings whose dads forced guitar music on them as children. The 38 year old Vile, who straddles between 70’s rock and the indie of today, has enough in his arsenal to make sure everyone goes home happy.
For the first half an hour, he exchanges between cuts from Bottle It In and a variety of oldies. He drops unlikely excerpts from his past – ‘Jesus Fever’, ‘I’m an Outlaw’, ‘Goldtone’ – amongst the new tracks, a bold approach to the set-listing that should satisfy anyone who is after the fresh stuff and rarities.
Highlights from the new record, ‘Check Baby’ and ‘Bassackwards’, make early appearances and prove that Kurt Vile’s songwriting is as strong as ever. The latter does a great job of moving the audience with wavy instrumental breaks and Kurt’s conversational story-telling. The whole room sings back its arbitrariness: “I was on the beach but I was thinking about the bay / Got to the bay but by then I was far away.”
What has always stood Vile apart from his contemporaries is his guitar playing and ability to craft songs around infectious riffs and chord progressions. When he shows off his musicianship, the show steps up. This is most obvious when he plays ‘Peeping Tomboy’ from 2011’s Smoke Ring for My Halo alone on an acoustic. The fingerpicking is stunning and garners the most cheers of any song played all night.
This happens again with ‘Wakin’ on a Pretty Day’, when Vile channels his acoustic through distortion effects and a wah-wah pedal to tackle a roaring solo that comes off as truly staggering. He follows this up with his most classic-sounding and accomplished song to date, ‘KV Crimes’, a nod to Neil Young’sCrazy Horse years that showcases all of Vile’s six-string and song-writing talents.
For the last few songs, a fifth man appears on stage to add guitar, which one can’t help but feel would have reinforced the band’s sound for the full set. But the band squeeze 2015 masterpiece ‘Pretty Pimpin' into the encore for good measure, which of course goes down a treat. By this point, Kurt Vile has already convinced everyone that he is, and has always been, a remarkable crafter of lo-fi guitar songs that can rival the best of any indie or classic rock artist.