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Monday, October 19, 2015

Live Review: Kurt Vile Bewitches the Fillmore

Posted By on Mon, Oct 19, 2015 at 11:23 AM

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Kurt Vile & the Violators
Cass McCombs
Heron Oblivion
Friday, October 16, 2015
The Fillmore, San Francisco

Better Than: Most things really.

Live acts who don’t say much to the crowd during their shows can be broken into two groups: those that are better than their audience (at least in their own minds), and those that are so fully taken by the music they’re crafting that there’s no room left to find extra words for the people in front of them. On Friday night at the Fillmore, Kurt Vile reaffirmed his position in the latter category, pouring himself into the jagged hooks of his guitar lines and speaking through the opaque but relatable words of his songs.

The closest Vile ever got to really addressing the sold-out crowd was when he spontaneously sang a reworking of the Three’s Company theme song during a tuning lull, changing the words to “Come and knock on our door/ I’ll be waiting for me.” The subtle but effective twist was reminiscent of what Vile does on a larger scale with his music.

Take a song like “Pretty Pimpin,” the first single off Vile’s latest album, b'lieve i'm goin down. Not only is the track catchy, gorgeous, and profound, but also one of the songs even the most casual fan in attendance Friday night was waiting to hear. Rather than stay true to the recorded version, Vile and his backing band the Violators sped it up, rendering it more jilted and abrupt than its studio counterpart, but every ounce as stunning.

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Indeed, the Violators were quite the impressive ensemble, lead by SoCal music guru Farmer Dave Scher, who has also lent his talents to acts as varied as Animal Collective, Interpol, and Elvis Costello. Kurt Vile’s music is built around a riff — be it guitar or sometimes banjo — that grows and winds its way around the other sounds of the song like a jungle vine. Without the tender talent of his bandmates, the riff might consume all in its path (and at various moments during the evening, it did just that, but always by design). The work of the Violators was to tame the beast, encourage it without letting it smother the overall composition. They were more than up to the task.

Framed in a halo of luscious locks, Vile’s mane obscured his face to the audience members not standing dead center. Aside from the Cousin It from Addams Family vibe it inspired, the look came across almost like a barrier, protecting the crowd from the full power of his sound, a visor to restrain his musical Cyclops. When his jean jacket came off early in the set, Vile’s T-shirt, a block letter affair that read “What’s Up Kooks,” greeted the Fillmore. The word choice was prescient – there was something kooky permeating the air, a joke we were all in on but afraid to acknowledge out loud. It was almost as though if one were to stare directly at Vile for too long, he might disappear in a puff of smoke and tangled curls, leaving us to wonder if the raconteur with the melodious tales of introspection and folk-drenched balladry was ever really there.

It was well past midnight when the last note of the evening finally echoed its way out of the PA. It was hard to tell the hour had grown so late, such is the pull of watching Vile live. The edges around the music seem to blur, an aural fisheye lens so focused on its subject that when the shutter finally does snap down, you can only rub you eyes and readjust to the surroundings you’ve forgotten.

Critic’s Notebook:

- To the couple straight up freaking during “Freak Train”: bravo. Not sure that’s what Kurt had in mind, but if you can make it work, who are we to stop you?

- The evening’s poster was Kurt Vile’s name (along with all the text) written in Jello shots. Looks very cool, but I think overpours of whiskey would be slightly more appropriate.

- Despite the fact that Vile’s former band The War on Drugs was scheduled to play Treasure Island less than 48 hours after his show (and the fact that leadman Adam Granduciel came out to guest on “Freak Train” at Vile’s L.A. stop a few night’s prior), there was no reunion to be had at the Fillmore.


1. Dust Bunnies
2. Pretty Pimpin
3. Jesus Fever
4. Wheelhouse
5. I’m an Outlaw
6. That's Life, tho (almost hate to say)
7. Goldtone
8. He’s Alright
9. Stand Inside
10. Wakin on a Pretty Day
11. KV Crimes
12. Freak Train


13. Wild Imagination
14. All in a Daze Work
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About The Author

Zack Ruskin

Zack Ruskin

Zack was born in San Francisco and never found a reason to leave. He has written for Consequence of Sound, The Believer, The Millions, and The Rumpus. He is still in search of a Bort license plate.

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