Kurt Vile’s Picking Up SteamMay 17th, 2013
Kurt Vile and the Violators – The Bowery Ballroom – May 16, 2013
Kurt Vile cares a lot about his sound. This could be said of most musicians, of course, but anyone familiar with Vile’s work knows that it’s all those little details that make his music so remarkable. All those guitar ditties that weasel their way into your head and never leave end up defining his songs as a whole. A lot of bands tend to leave these nuanced details out of their live show—or bury them sonically so that they’re hardly audible under everything else. But with Kurt Vile, he ensures that all those nuances are accounted for. And with the help of his backing band, the Violators, and a stage littered with effects pedals and guitars of every stripe, there’s an impressive depth to his live sound that’s easy on the ears.
Vile kicked off his show last night at The Bowery Ballroom with the title track to his latest album, Wakin on a Pretty Daze. He came out wearing a white denim jacket, white denim jeans and white Converse. All this white made his iconic gnarled mop of hair all the more noticeable. And when the jacket came off by the second song, you could see that it was lined with leopard print. For such an unassuming fellow, Vile’s got some subtle swag. While watching his guitar skills on “Jesus Fever,” it became noticeable that he comes from the J Mascis school of “let me throw down a huge and searing guitar riff without making it look like it takes any effort at all.”
Vile’s guitar playing is fun to watch, in part for how unconventional it is. At times during “Was All Talk,” he bent his thumb over his guitar neck to assist his other fingers. Toward the middle of the set, the Violators left Vile behind with just an acoustic guitar to play softer renditions of “Snowflakes Are Dancing” and “Peeping Tomboy.” The band returned for the loudest moment of the set, “Freak Train,” played with such krautrock momentum that the song seemed unstoppable. It eventually wound down out to an end, as did the show, but for the Kurt Vile train, this thing’s just starting to pick up steam. —Dan Rickershauser