July 19, 2018
Kurt Vile and the Violators ended their summer tour on Tuesday night in Charlotte at the Fillmore Underground. The smaller capacity of The Underground provided an intimate, friendly backdrop for the Philly legends, allowing them to comfortably round out the last tour show. The mood was casual and laid back with a lighter crowd made up of devoted fans.
Vile chose songs from all over his extensive catalog, opening the night softly with 2015’s b’lieve I’m goin’ down’s “Wheelhouse,” a song Vile has expressed was his favorite at the time. The track wound delicately across the room to soothe the buzz of chatter before multi-instrumentalist Violator Jesse Trbovich hopped onstage to add grinding bass that settled the song deep in the listeners body, coaxing the faraway tendrils of the dreamy track back home. Vile easily conducts his music between the playfully distant, lost-in-thought haze, and the established authenticity of his proud blue collar Philadelphian roots.
Vile’s signature picking style comes from learning to play guitar chords on a banjo when he was a kid simply because that was the instrument his parents had provided him. He wrote the beginnings of “I’m An Outlaw” on this same banjo and the song was eventually revisited and properly recorded for b’lieve. Drums rumbled like a heartbeat into action under the whittled banjo plucks as Vile whooped and sneered out self-critical lyrics like “What a dumb thing to sing but it had a ring to it” under his mass of long hair. From banjo to acoustic to electric, Vile employed a slew of guitars, switching one out for the other nearly every song. Kicking up the dirt, the band stomped into “Dust Bunnies” as Trbovich and Rob Laakso (also multi-instrumentalist) moved from bass to keys to synth, dripping stalactites of intricately spun layers into the wandering song.
Sleepily peering open “Goldtone” off Wakin’ On a Pretty Day, Vile expressed “This song is about this second right now,” and wrapped the audience in his luminous guitar tones and hazy nostalgia. Again the musicians flirted between sublime and comfort, the way your body finally decompresses as you settle yourself into a favorite chair. While you’re there relaxing in the haze, the steady compress of “Girl Called Alex” streams bitter synth into the sweet song, forming a rolling and thoughtful horizon. Vile croone out affecting streams of consciousness, encapsulating the day-to-day struggles of walking around on this earth. “I wanna walk out into the night without it being running away from a bad day in my brain,” sums up the way we’d often like to hang our brains up for the day and get a nice respite from all the bad thoughts that otherwise permeate. Vile’s acoustic guitar loops and fuzzing distortion rose before cascading down into the calm outro, a similar pattern found in the loop of depressive thinking.
Reaching back into 2011’s Smoke Ring for My Halo, “Jesus Fever” and a solo acoustic “Peeping Tom” made an appearance before the band returned to the stage for a reinvigorated “Wakin On A Pretty Day,” the title track to the aforementioned 2013 album. The most impressive thing about a Violators show is the way the band seems to create magic in their music out of nowhere (although I believe the magic hides somewhere in Vile’s hair). Expert use of pedals, progressions and tones allow a seemingly harmless song to rise out of itself into something darker than expected, with just the right amount of freak added in for full effect.
“Puppet to the Man” was delivered with punctuated disgust, displaying the rampant revulsion of today’s political shitstorm with Vile’s cleverly sardonic narrative. The grit and snarl in Vile’s vocals punched the message through the venue. Introducing the Violators, Kurt applauded Laakso, Trbovich, and Kyle Spence (drums) before whipping around to say “but this song is all about me, its called KV Crimes!” The set explodes for “Freak Train” an all-time favorite track off 2009’s Childish Prodigy album. Closing the set with newer track “Wild Imagination” showed how talented and flexible the band is.
The two-song encore satiated any loose ends as the band queued up “Baby’s Arms,” one of his most popular songs which initially elevated Vile to his current indie rock status. The song is sweet and earnest, and a treat to hear since he doesn’t often play it live. Encore closer, “Downbound Train” is a Springsteen cover featured on Vile’s EP So Outta Reach. The song is prime east coast shuffle, an homage to not just Springsteen himself, but to the churning dirt shores and black coffee lonesomeness that seems specific to us here left behind on our abandoned frontier.
Check out the remaining 2018 tour dates fro Kurt Vile.