Kurt Vile and the Violators
House of Blues
April 14, 2016
You're going to get consistency at a Kurt Vile show. The Philly-based DIY singer and songwriter is not consistent like another shitty McDonald's hamburger, but more like your grandma’s pot roast – his solo catalog, six albums deep, is fulfilling in a few different ways. Mostly, his Dylan-esque approach pairs intricate guitar work with simple, everyday lyrics that stimulate deep thought like a Kerouac novel.
No surprises come with the Constant Hitmaker. You are not going to get rock-star kicks, guitar twirls or pyro, just an extremely solid performance. KV and the Violators just walk out, craft their song, change instruments, then rinse and repeat.
Sipping from a red Solo cup, Vile walked onstage Thursday wearing tight maroon jeans, a long-sleeved denim shirt, and incredible blue and gray old-school Adidas running shoes, and briefly acknowledged the cheering crowd.
After Vile opened with “Dust Bunnies," the guitar tech placed a banjo around his neck, and Vile took to pickin’ and grinnin’ like Roy Clark from Hee Haw. (Actually, his scraggly hair was parted perfectly down the middle, covering his face and most of his torso, so it was hard to tell if Vile was really grinnin’ or not.) But that tech has to be the hardest-working man in the business. From just offstage, he made sure the instrument was tuned to perfection before walking out and switching the instruments on every single song.
This was a rare House of Blues show with no barricade, allowing fans to lean up against the stage just a few feet from Vile and company. A few of them danced, but most just gazed at the band's complex guitar work. The entire set was quite mellow and chill, as Vile's monotonous yet mesmerizing singing voice kept fans fixed on the performance. The relaxed crowd watched the guitar master finger pick his way through popular underground song after popular underground song. His fingers moved so fast that it was hard to discern them at times. The muscle memory caused them to keep moving even after he gave his instrument to the guitar tech, similar to a snake moving long after the head was removed.
The half-packed venue held seemingly the perfect amount of people for them to freely move about and get along, but was not the case for a couple of fans. From the front-row balcony, I witnessed a lady moving toward the front row. She was shouting and pointing at Vile in an aggressive (fanatical?) manner, jamming to the smooth grooves but still being a bit odd. This behavior continued as she shouted both during and between several songs. Then suddenly, like a prison scene from Sons of Anarchy, a young man who had previously been leaning motionless against the stage, simply watching the band, grabbed his half-full Pale Ale, turned and, in an extremely violent manner, "air shanked" this lady with the can.
With about 35 thrusts, beer misted on and around his annoying target. He then turned around and resumed silently watching Vile before security navigated through the crowd and tapped him on his shoulder. He knew he was gone; when security tapped him, he just turned and walked out, no discussion necessary. It was very fitting that how the scene played out. Vile sang “He’s Alright” and repeated the lyrics, “I don’t care. I don’t care. I don’t care” as security trailed the calm aggressor through the crowd toward the exit.
Overall, the crowd consisted of all of the cool folks — a post-hipster crowd who seemed ripe for hookups. There were lots of hugged-up couples and a whole bunch of single people looking to get all huggy. I never thought of Vile’s music as sensual before, but maybe it was the groovy purple lights shining on all the people, giving the effect of a high-school dance.
The lyric I wish all Houston concert attendees embraced: “I don’t talk, I only want to listen.”
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