Kurt Vile and the Violators: Pretty Pimpin’ Prodigy

By Shirley Griffith 

June 13, 2016

As if he weren’t a widely adored rockstar, as if each album he releases isn’t more intricate and critically praised than the last, as if Kim Gordon hasn’t expressed her admiration especially of the new album, b’lieve I’m goin’ down, Kurt Vile sat plain as day on the corner of Amos’ Saturday evening smoking a cigarette and smiling to passersby. This is what fans appreciate about Vile’s demeanor: his approachability and light-heartedness. A Kurt song is similar to when something funny happens and you think you’re the only one who caught it but you look up and your best friend is making eye contact with you to acknowledge that yep, they’re onto it too. Things seem easier, a little bit sweeter whenever a Vile song plays overhead.

Opening up the show was Your Friend, a project from Taryn Miller out of Kansas. The textured, droning softness of sound was captivating and I was hoping more people would tune in instead of continuing their conversations, but you can’t win them all. The swelling beauty of it all was very similar to Beach House, if not a bit more stripped and honest. Saturday was their first show as Kurt’s opener and the ambient Miller will be supporting the Violators for a slew of dates through August.

Kurt Vile CLTure
Photo by Daniel Coston

People were absolutely buzzing in anticipation of the Violators’ set. Each person jockeyed for a prime spot and the bar was practically abandoned in the moments leading up to the four-piece walking on stage. The Violators took their positions and without any introduction launched into “Dust Bunnies” off b’lieve. The whole band seemed to be in great spirits and switched quickly from acoustic to electric throughout the set. In the mix was a pristine silver banjo used for “I’m an Outlaw,” a tune also off the album. Kurt has a very particular picking and playing technique that give his songs a signature Vile slyness. This is because, when he was a kid, he wanted to learn guitar but his parents bought him a banjo instead. When he tried to replicate Pavement songs on a banjo, this is the funky style that happened. In writing for the album, Kurt wrote “I’m an Outlaw” on that fabled banjo and recorded it with a banjo modeled after the original one which is fascinating in an underdog victory way. The lighting was minimal but as he sang out “I’m an outlaw under Orion’s belt” I noticed one light just over Kurt’s shoulder was yellowed and when he yelped out his signature Vile “woots” from under his wild dark hair it was like experiencing a wolf howling out to the moon.

“Jesus Fever” had crystal guitar work and Vile took a break from his regular Jaguar to don a white Fender, bringing out the pretty and rambling wistfulness of the song. “Goldtone” shimmered into the night and the vocals faded against the sweet sparkling of the guitars. Taking advantage of the softened mood, they played “That’s Life tho (almost hate to say),” a philosophical and thoughtful song off b’lieve.  The song was sweet and far away, like a deep dream. The Violators left the stage and Kurt stood alone with only an acoustic singing one of the most romantic songs he’s ever written, “Stand Inside.” “Stand Inside” is so jarring in its purity and simplicity. He’s not promising unattainable or larger-than-life things to his wife or daughters (who I assume the song is written about), he’s instead capturing the light of everyday love, a thing that is so often so easily overlooked. The type of kindness and love that happens when you look out a window and see the way the sunlight illuminates a leaf you’d never noticed before, and you smile at the wonder of it all and you feel happy for an instant. It’s the simple things that are capable of being the most brilliant things.  

Kurt Vile CLTure
Photo Daniel Coston

Bringing the vibe back up and the band back out, Kurt said: “This song’s called ‘Wakin,’” and people held up their drinks to the title track off 2013’s Wakin On a Pretty Daze. The steady drumming and walking bass line make Wakin” a favorite among all Vile fans, but I was surprised that Kurt led the song with the acoustic still strapped to him. Jesse Trbovich has been a Violator ever since I’ve been a fan and I cannot stress how integral he is to the sound and creative flourishes of each song. Jesse took the reigns at the end of  “Wakin” and brought the song to a wall of glorious sound. I’ve never heard an acoustic-led song have so many layers and gradients and still sound so pristine. The commotion segued into “KV Crimes” and his newest hit off b’lieve, “Pretty Pimpin.”  Both songs were a perfect end to the set; raucous and careening, with funky, inspired breakdowns that let each musician shine out.

The encore included a solo acoustic version of 2011’s Smoke Ring For My Halo track “Peeping Tomboy,” which was a great way to perform the song because it showcased Vile’s aforementioned unique pick-playing style. The night ended with the wailing, indulgent “Freak Train” off my favorite album, Childish Prodigy, with Jesse nowhere to be found…oh wait, there he is, walking triumphantly from the corner into the light while howling out a train whistle saxophone solo! That sax solo rips, barreling like a freight in the night. I spent the entirety of the song smiling and shaking my head at the immense sound being witnessed.

After the set, Kurt and the Violators hung around outside laughing and joking around with their fans, because at the end of the day, all we really want is to just have fun.

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