Review of Kurt Vile & the Violators at Philadelphia’s Union Transfer (11/12/2011)

I was definitely psyched to see Philadelphia native Kurt Vile perform with his band the Violators at Philly’s fairly new music venue, Union Transfer.

The astonishingly spacious venue initially attracted a small crowd on this Beaver Moon evening in November, but filled up once Vile took the stage.

The set began with Kurt performing a solo rendition of the beautiful “Blackberry Song” off of 2009’s Childish Prodigy. The band then came out to perform “Runner Ups,” “Jesus Fever,” and “On Tour,” all off of this year’s Smoke Ring for my Halo. “Freeway,” “Ghost Town” and “Hunchback” followed.

One of the biggest highlights of the night came midway in the set with “Freak Train,” particularly the last two minutes of the song, which left the audience in a wonderfully discordant frenzy of noise. Hearing this track live beats out the studio version by far, not to mention it’s the only track I know of in Vile’s catalog where we hear the musician fiercely growl into the microphone.

Vile then performed solo for “Peeping Tomboy” and “My Best Friends,” before closing out the official set with “Puppet to the Man” and my personal favorite, “Society is my Friend.”

Kurt came out next with drummer Mike Zanghi to perform the first encore, an acoustic version of the lovely “Baby’s Arms,” before closing out the night with “Laughing Stock” and his brilliant Bruce Springsteen cover, “Downbound Train.”

With the exception of not hearing “Heart Attack,” I was more than satisfied with this show. The band now has just enough material to make the set unpredictable, while personally I was happy to hear the majority of tracks from Smoke Ring for my Halo.

Minus a few dancing girls up front, there wasn’t much crowd interaction, but you could tell the audience was constantly shifting from being spellbound by guitar to ‘respectfully’ rocking out. The show almost felt as if you were listening to Vile’s albums on the best stereo sound system with a large group of friends, who collectively in quiet reverence understand they’re witnessing something great.

Kurt’s vocals were expectedly on-key (although even if they weren’t, he has enough of a unique set of pipes to get away with it), while his stage mannerisms were delightfully oblivious, switching and strapping on guitars like one would tie their shoes. Speaking with a friend-of-a-friend of his, apparently Vile is somewhat shy, but whether humble or playing-it-cool, he definitely comes off as a generally nice guy.

It was a treat to be introduced to opening act Far-Out Fangtooth, a psych/garage-rock band very reminiscent of The Velvet Underground and The Chocolate Watchband, albeit with a more punk/gothic edge. Techno-rock duo Blues Control followed.

Overall, it was a night for lukewarm melodies, fuzzy guitars, finger-picking and drowning in sound.

Vile fans should check out his latest EP, So Outta Reach, released earlier this month.

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