Vital Vile Headlines The Bowery Ballroom

June 13th, 2011

Kurt Vile & the Violators – The Bowery Ballroom – June 11, 2011

(Photo: Jared Levy)

Behind swaths of hair and layers of distortion, Kurt Vile, the man and musician, is easy to lose. He and his four-piece band, the Violators, wear chest-length hair draped over their faces, sharing an identical neo-grunge aesthetic. And with up to four guitarists onstage at a time, Vile’s own instrumental contributions occasionally assimilate into rock slosh. This isn’t to say, however, that Vile isn’t vital. For his first headlining show at The Bowery Ballroom, Vile, on the strength of his most recent critically acclaimed album, Smoke Ring for My Halo, drew a sold-out crowd, a group clamoring for the frontman’s musical output.

As a singer-songwriter, Vile’s melodies, expressed in slurred slacker vocals, touch on familiar American rock territory with a contemporary touch. Delay-saturated guitar riffs and pounding drums transformed “Ghost Town” and “Jesus Fever” from dynamic three-minute songs into sprawling anthems. The effect felt like Neil Young’s Live Rust given an indie-rock makeover, lots of grizzle with the addition of pulsating toms and huge reverb. But during a solitary performance of Smoke Ring for My Halo’s “Peeping Tomboy,” Vile’s intricate fingerpicking on acoustic guitar wove beautifully with playful, self-reflective lyrics. Moments such as this brought balance to a show that found Vile enveloped within his band. Yet, as one attendee noted, yelling out “I love your band,” a group-driven focus is the essence of Vile’s concerts. The unity is the name. —Jared Levy