Kurt Vile has played exactly one show in D.C. this year. Last Tuesday was the sixth time I've seen him. It doesn't take a math genius to figure out I'm a bit obsessed. But his performance at Baltimore's Talking Head Club was a perfect example of why he's worth catching so often -- it's great and different every time. Save for the pair of performances I caught in Austin at SXSW each show has been unique. Full band, solo, different members, headliner, support act, etc. Whatever the situation, Vile manages to be nothing less than captivating.
Some bands (Future of the Left, local punks the Points, for example) are great because you know exactly what you're going to get and they deliver every time. There's something to be said for going in with the full expectation of being blasted with ear-shattering, all-attitude rock-and-roll and having those expectations met. But Vile's grab bag approach is maybe a bit more exciting. Did I expect him to have a giant harp as part of his band on Tuesday? Nope. Did it work? Shockingly well.
Last week's show was the best of both worlds and showed exactly why his Matador debut, out in October, has got lots of people excited. First he played sparkling, solo acoustic mini-set full of finger-picked folk songs and laidback strummers. The first one, "He's All Right," from his forthcoming Matador Records debut "Childish Prodigy," is the kind of song Vile specializes in, conveying a sort of everyman mysticism. "I was a geezer just last night/Watching TV though not understanding anything/I scrape my face on the clouds every time I get out," he sang.
A makeshift version of his backing band, the Violators, took the stage for the final four songs of the set. This wasn't the full-on rock assault Violators; this was the version of the giant harp Violators. The full-on rock version that was on display on Austin, and also at a show I saw in New York last month, is an often-sludgy, triple-guitar attack band that drones with the best of them. This time ... again, there was a giant harp. So it was mellow, especially on "Breathin Out" which glided along in a very Galaxie 500 kind of way. The set ended with "Space Forklift," which morphed from a spacey jam into a droning rocker with Vile shouting the chorus, which is whispered on the recorded version, as the din behind him reached its loudest point of the evening.
--David Malitz (Aug. 2009)