by Alex Gordon
You missed a good one this week. Philadelphia‘s Kurt Vile and The Violators stopped by Carnegie Lecture Hall Wednesday night for another installment of the Warhol Museuem's always-worth-it Sound Series.
And despite a slightly underwhelming turnout, a few sound issues and a muggy un-airconditioned room, Vile and crew came through with flying colors (or whatever it is Kurt Vile comes through with), playing through his early catalogue and highlights from 2013’s Wakin' On A Pretty Daze.
If you’re unfamiliar, Kurt Vile is a subdued, finger-picking guitarist and singer-songwriter from Philadelphia, and a founding member of the also excellent War On Drugs. Vile departed the group in 2008 after their (criminally underappreciated) debut Wagonwheel Blues and has been releasing solo material near-constantly since (five full lengths and five EPs in five years).
What started as lo-fi dude-and-a-guitar folk has evolved into something way more interesting and fully-baked. These days, Vile is more 70s classic rock than bedroom-folk, making guitar-heavy, (relatively) accessible rock music that melds with his dry, sardonic lyrics to an incredibly satisfying end. His most recent release, the critically adored Wakin’ On A Pretty Daze, can also double as an elaborate love letter to Neil Young.
On Wednesday, Vile and band took the stage after a solid showing from local openers Old Head and dove straight into the Wakin’-heavy setlist (“Wakin’ On A Pretty Day,” “Jesus Fever,” “Was All Talk,” and “KV Crimes” to start). It’s hard to explain, but Vile is kind of a great performer in an anti-performer sort of way. He doesn’t move much. His hair obscures his face. He’s not really a talker. But it’s hard to look away; he’s got charisma and it goes a long way.
After a few audio hiccups, a dozen or so guitar-swaps and a few songs of Vile on his own, the band closed out with one of his best, strangest tunes called “Freak Train.” It’s a seven-minute, one-note stampede of energy, all drum loops and feedback and stream of consciousness and one seriously killer saxophone solo.
In an unexpected encore, Vile returned solo for a laid back two-song finish (with a different guitar for each) and concluded with a polite nod and one of those little kid waves where you shake your whole hand from the wrist. It's pretty hard not to like the guy.
So... there weren’t very many people there. And there were some issues with the sound. And it was pretty hot. But glass half-full: it was an intimate, appealingly unpolished, warm performance from a great young talent with a bright future.
*Also, my mom wanted me to clarify that Kurt Vile is not related to, nor is he the same person as, the German composer Kurt Weill.