Kurt Vile Live at the Cat’s Cradle/August 9, 2011
Acknowledging that the band has been on the road for what “has seemed like forever”, Kurt Vile and his accompanying two-piece The Violators, hit Carrboro Tuesday night, bringing with them a healthy dose of rock and roll ferocity. Playing behind the excellent new album, Smoke Ring For My Halo, Vile and company regaled the near-capacity crowd with their expert blend of eccentric lyrical tales, noodly guitar freakouts, and pounding riffage. On record, Vile alternates between spooky, acoustic stream-of conscious narratives and all-out electric anthems. Live, Vile and his band do much of the same. A seated Vile opened the show acoustically and alone, immediately silencing the crowd with a razor sharp performance of “Runner Ups”. Vile took his time with this one, spitting out the “Hey Man’s”, the “Yeah’s” and other expletives of the lyrics with particular snarl and menace. Vile’s appearance was also striking as his thin frame, long, face obscuring locks, and hunched posture resembled Nick Drake circa Bryter Layter or Gold Rush-era Neil Young. Vocally, Vile channels another rock legend, as words sneer their way out like Dylan’s did on the Royal Albert Hall bootlegs, elongating certain syllables and holding notes for dramatic effect or busily snapping forth lines in the most economical way possible. In fact, a zealous fan noted this observation midway through the set as he shouted to Vile, “You sound like Bob Dylan, but in the best way!”
Sonically, the show was louder than what one may expect just from hearing Vile’s recorded output. Equally as strong a shredder as a lyricist, Vile deftly fingerpicked his way through the acoustic numbers and thrashed away on the louder ones, breaking several strings in the process. A second guitarist lent muscle to the sound, while a ferociously charged backbeat punched up the sound from the drum kit. The stomp was particularly pleasing to hear on “Society Is My Friend” and “Freak Train”, two of the more powerful cuts in the Vile catalog. The band was also unafraid to stretch out, adding solos and jams to some already lengthy songs, and then expanding on shorter ones, like “Jesus Fever”, re-arranged in a sped-up electric gallop.
Drawing reverence for both Nick Drake and Bob Segar is one of Vile’s most curious charms, making the listening experience both eclectic and informative. Vile’s sharp, poetic tongue coupled with his penchant for experimental arrangements make him one of the rising stars of Indie Rock; an artist capable of filtering grand homages to artists past into powerful creations of individuality. These sentiments are easily gleaned through his albums, but perhaps even more so live, as Vile smoothly alternates between the dichotomies, bringing a focused yet ragged sound to each track. It’s a recipe for a strong career, a direction towards which Vile is certainly heading.