Kurt Vile and the Violators @ The Crossing, 9th November, 2018

This Is TMRW have taken over The Crossing in Digbeth for a weekend of gigs, with Kurt Vile being Friday’s offering resulting in a sell-out show. Meg Baird and Mary Lattimer are the support act, promoting their new album Ghost Forests, which has been released today on Three Lobed Recordings.  Both Meg and Mary have produced vast amounts of music independently of each other and waited until early 2018 to work together after a relocation to California. Baird’s ethereal, upraising vocals encapsulate the true essence of Americana folk enhanced by Lattimer’s ingenious use of the harp that makes the duet sonically unusual. Despite being such competent musicians, the duo have an air of awkwardness on stage with Baird barely looking at the ever increasing crowd and Lattimer doing the between song talk reluctantly. Yet, this ill at ease pair, produce some of the most interesting music I have heard in a while. Mary Lattimer adeptly utilises delay pedals and loops with the harp and keyboards to create an atmospheric back drop in which Meg Baird’s enviously beautiful voice flows.  To truly appreciate the delicate refinement of this live performance, I want to be in a smaller venue with a fully focused audience and a louder sound, so here is hoping this duet return to Birmingham to headline at the Hare and Hounds. 

A resounding whoop heralds the start of Kurt Vile’s set which begins with the opener Loading Zones from his latest album, Bottle It In.  Vile has a skill for producing descriptive lyrics that he delivers with a slovenly drawl and meandering instrumentation and the new album doesn’t deviate from this incredibly effective form of song writing.  Bassackwards is a prime example of how Kurt has honed his craft, a lengthy track with a repetitive walking beat that underpins an acoustic guitar riff and a Dylanesque beat poet vibe to the vocals. Live, this song embraces the laid back essence to its fullest as the simple light show keeps the audience focused on the singer and his guitar playing especially with the extended outro that, in the wrong hands, could have become dull.  Kurt Vile changes instruments after every song that sees his guitar tech cover more of the stage than he does, for example, using a banjo for I’m An Outlaw to ensure that the song maintains the vibe of the original. It isn’t

only Vile that swaps instruments, apart from the drummer, the other members of the band alternate between keyboards, bass and guitar depending on the requirements of the song and illustrating the calibre of musicianship that is standing before us. 

Despite much of the set being dedicated to the new album, Vile places nuggets of his previous work at key points, noticeably a solo performance of Peeping Tom which sees the band exit, leaving Kurt as a lone figure fingerpicking an acoustic guitar, delivering an emotive expression of dissatisfaction. After a minor Cramps based interlude, Vile unleashes an extended version of Wakin On A Pretty Day which is welcomed with a sea of bobbing heads followed by the gritty riff of KV Crimes that takes a lackadaisical wander and gives it the command to strut and the audience are even more appreciative. 

Many of the songs, including Jesus Fever, see Kurt dip his head and allow his hair to close off the crowd so he can immerse himself in a guitar solo, none of which are self-indulgent rather more providing a spontaneous live element to the songs. 

The arpeggio introduction indicates that my favourite track from Bottle It In is going to be given an airing tonight. Skinny Mini is musically a sparse number with some fast talking lyrics interspersed with an occasional whoop that has the capacity to create a vivid image of the woman being described especially when the roaring discordant guitar rudely interrupts. A fascinating piece of music that suggests Kurt Vile enjoying not conforming to any musical rules and experimenting with mismatched ideas such as a guitar purposefully drowning out the vocals as they fade into the background. 

Pretty Pimpin is left as the first song of the encore and is clear favourite of many of the crowd who have been acknowledging Vile’s performance in a mature manner as his music dictates, irrespective of his final command being for us to stay in school! With Mutinies and the driving force of Freak Train bringing the set to a close, Kurt Vile and The Violators have given any one who likes his music an uncompromising ninety minutes of psychedelic, Americana, indie rock. 

Reviewer: Toni Woodward

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