Kurt Vile occupies a unique space in today’s indie rock culture. While plenty scenester darlings of late clearly aim to emulate a certain aloof-yet-masterful aesthetic best embodied by the likes of Pavement over 20 years ago (see Parquet Courts’ brainy lyrics juxtaposed by sprawling, apathetic song structures), Vile follows under the lineage of Pavement’s quintessential underground vibe more naturally and effortlessly. His reverence of rock n’ roll greats who have come before him is evident in his workmanlike approach to the craft, while on the other hand, time and again he breaks the rote templates of the genres with which he has become associated.
This past Friday, with his band The Violators, Vile arrived at the Granada Theater in Lawrence nearing the end of a tour that began last October and spanned two continents, in support of his most recent album, b’lieve i’m goin down... Having spent that much time on the road, one could forgive the occasional sign of fatigue amongst the foursome. A nearly at-capacity Granada contained a pleasant balance of music nerd/KV super fans and party-bound students getting their night started. Chugging a PBR as he took the stage, Vile appeared fit to feed off of the Friday night energy. The environment called back to a show at the same venue in fall of 2014, that of the War on Drugs, fronted by Vile’s former bandmate Adam Granduciel. One could easily draw comparisons between the two bands, as Vile and Granduciel have been regularly compared ever since they came on the scene together in their native Philadelphia, and particularly after they parted ways to embark on solo careers. Sonically, the two have gradually begun to drift apart, but it’s their live performances where the comparisons shine through.
Aesthetically, one might not tell the two bands apart. Set aside the long, disheveled locks, the denim jackets, the cheap beer cans strewn around the stage… Past the surface of nonchalance is a common perfectionism amongst the groups. One can’t miss the stand, stage right, holding upwards of 20 guitars solely for Vile himself. The guitar change per song is a staple for both Granduciel and Vile. Not a single song’s intended presentation can be sacrificed, whether it be by performance or by hardware. And with each guitar change comes minimal banter with the crowd. While one can only assume that Kurt would be an pleasant stranger to grab a beer with, he seems averse to spending precious seconds between songs doing anything but preparing for the next.
Let it not be a complaint though. As master of his craft, Vile treated the Granada with a superb mixture of his catalog. Pulling equal parts from his three most recent albums, b’lieve, Wakin on a Pretty Daze, and Smoke Ring for My Halo (with throwback favorite “Freak Train” off of Childish Prodigy for his diehards), the shuffling amongst each album displayed just how diverse Vile’s sound can be, and just how rewarding it can feel to hear certain b-sides and lesser known tracks live (see “Stand Inside” off of b’lieve, or “Goldtone” from Pretty Daze). And while his encore of “Peeping Tomboy” and “Wild Imagination” closed the night not with a bang but with a haze, when considering the groups’ mellow demeanor, it felt a fitting finale. It also allowed the set to be examined as a whole rather than by showy moments. And in that respect, the Violators succeeded. What’s next for Kurt Vile? One can only hope that this lengthy tour is followed by ample time to rest. If his perfectionism on stage is any indication of his work in the studio, fatigue will be his enemy.
Overheard: “Thank you Kurt!” (repeated about 17 times, following “Wakin on a Pretty Day”)
Set List: Dust Bunnies, I’m an Outlaw, Pretty Pimpin, Jesus Fever, On Tour, Stand Inside, Goldtone, Wheelhouse, Wakin on a Pretty Day, KV Crimes, Puppet to the Man, Freak Train
Encore: Peeping Tomboy, Wild Imagination
**photo via matador records