Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Kurt Vile & the Violators at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom

Kurt Vile
Kurt Vile started playing music as a child in his home town of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He first played trumpet in fourth grade. At the age of 14, he learned how to play the banjo given to him by his bluegrass-loving father. The following year the teenager got his first guitar and began writing songs. By age 17, Vile was creating lo-fi home recordings of these songs and giving the demo discs to friends. After two years as a fork-lift driver at a warehouse in Boston, Massachusetts, Vile returned to Philadelphia, where in 2003 he met Adam Granduciel, who had  relocated from Oakland, California. The duo formed The War on Drugs in 2005, and also played together in Kurt Vile  & the Violators. Vile left the War on Drugs after one album, and Granduciel years later left the Violators, as both Vile and Granduciel focused on their own music. Kurt Vile & the Violators presently consists of Vile on vocals and guitar, Jesse Trbovich and Rob Laakso on guitars and bass, and Kyle Spence on drums. Vile's sixth album, b'lieve I'm goin down..., was released on September 25, 2015.

Earlier Vile recordings were indie pop, often with more than a touch of psychedelic guitar; at Webster Hall's Grand Ballroom tonight, the first of two consecutive sold out nights, Vile demonstrated that he has gravitated to a softer and slower foundation. A few light bulbs scattered about the stage set offered a dark ambiance, and the overhead stage lights remained dim throughout most of the set. The performance was similarly subdued, with the songs now steering away from the lively in favor of a balmy folk style. Usually looking down so that his long wavy hair covered his face, Vile gently finger picked his guitars as quickly as an aerobic exercise, and his subtle singing often reflected his youthful obsession with Bob Dylan. Seven of the 13 songs performed were from the new album; the remaining six songs were drawn from the three previous albums. New for the band, the more recent repertoire sometimes featured the Violators lightly playing keyboards. As Vile and company moved further away from garage rock to a more wistful and whispering Americana, perhaps a coffeehouse or theater setting would have been more appropriate than a ballroom. The songs deserved a closer listen, but for anyone expecting a rocking concert, this performance was rather dull.

Visit Kurt Vile & the Violators at www.kurtvile.com.