Monday, 3 June 2013

Kurt Vile & the Violators – Paradiso, 27 May 2013

A Night of Lo-Fi Energy and a Dutch Giant.

It is not very often I need to talk Jason Vaughan into seeing a live band.

The conversation usually goes like this: 'Such and such a band are playing, I've heard they're pretty good'

JV: 'Sounds good, I'm in'.

Tonight however, there was some resistance for Kurt Vile & the Violators. The variables for attending any show are of course always Availability, Venue and Price - in that order. And tonight JV's live show matrix worked in my favor. He had nothing else on in a slow week of shows, it was at his favorite venue and the price was low.

The reason for his reluctance tonight was twofold. One, we had caught the band Kurt started, and then left, The War on Drugs last year and it was probably the worst show of 2012. The second, and perhaps more pertinent reason, was that he had in fact already seen Kurt Vile live and also walked away from that show somewhat less than impressed.

Despite these warnings from my partner in crime, I still had an overwhelming desire to see it for myself. And the reason is simple, I fell in love with the third Kurt Vile solo album ‘Smoke Ring for my Halo’ a couple of years ago and felt that seeing him live was required before I could fully assess where Kurt stands on my list of favorite artist.

The Monday night show was not a sell out, but still had a pretty good sized crowd at the large stage of Paradiso. The top balcony section had not been opened but this was still an impressive step up in size from his last visit where he only played Bitterzoet.

Just before show time a Dutch giant ambled passed me, which is not an uncommon sight here in the land of the giants. This one however decided he would stop and stand on the step in front of me. Just why anyone who is over 2 meters tall needs to stand on a step, ever, I don’t know. I mean the air is much thinner up there, so it is tough to fully comprehend the thought process of any giant really.

With some effort, I looked around the giant’s thin and stretched torso to see Kurt slip out on stage and he was already everything I wanted him to be. His trade mark long and full bodied hair was hanging down over his face and shoulders, and his skinny black jeans looked like they had been painted on.

He then proceeded to knock back half a can of beer and then not be able to find a guitar pick. His roadie quickly produced one and then pointed out that there was a bunch of them attached to his mic stand. I found this whole scene amazing. I mean I have never played on stage with a live rock band once in my whole life and yet the first place I would look for a guitar pick is on the mic stand. I thought that was covered in singer/guitarist 101?

What was he on? This could be an interesting night.

He and his Violators then kicked off with the exact kind of theatrical stage show I had anticipated. The two guitarists and the bass player had their feet stapled to the floor and this was obviously causing them some discomfort as they continued to look at their stapled feet for the entire show. On the odd occasion that Kurt did look up and his hair was not obscuring his face, I thought he looked very young for his 33 years. Perhaps permanently hiding behind a thick mane of hair is in fact the secret to keeping youthful skin?

Musically they were also what I expected. Kurt switched between different electric and acoustic guitars throughout the set but he had them running through so many guitar pedals that they all kind of sounded the same.

By this stage you may be thinking I had made a bad call and was not enjoying the show. But that’s the crazy thing about my relationship with Kurt Vile, I was loving it.

Seeing him live, I was able to place him in my musical world more accurately than when I listen to his albums. He fits in somewhere between Pavement/Stephen Malkmus, Ben Kweller and the Lemonhards/Evan Dando. They all have a certain Lo-Fi quality to their sounds and a bit of a slacker attitude in their style.

Just like Kurt, these guys all have albums that I have been obsessed with at various times of my life. And while I might not listen to them every week, I always ending up going back to these albums and can maintain and enjoyable connection to the sound and feel they have in common.

I also feel there is a sense of ambiguity that these artists all share, and anyone who has heard/read my thoughts on Evan Dando will know partly where I am coming from. By the end of the night I could not work out if Kurt was a stoned out, shoe gazing rocker who just likes to jam away on his guitar making some crazy sounds that happen to have a catchy, melodic feel to them. Or if this is just part of an onstage character and behind the hair he is actually a pretty ambitious, hard working and talented musician who knows exactly what he is doing and where he is going.

I guess I will never really know the true answer to these questions anymore than I will ever be able to understand why I love a certain sound and feel on one album over another. At the end of the day you just have to take what you like and enjoy the ride, and that is exactly how I felt about my experience and Kurt’s on this night in Amsterdam.

As he reached the end of his second encore, he got a surprisingly loud ovation from what had been a remarkably quiet crowd all evening. There had not been a large amount of cheers, whistles or singing along during the night, but at the same time there had also been almost no chatter, even when Kurt played some quieter acoustic songs on his own. But now even the Dutch giant, in a remarkable show of strength, was lifting his giant sized hands up above his head and giving the band a noisy send off.

For the record, JV thought he was no better this time than last time he saw him and that his voice sounded as whiney as early Bob Dylan. So clearly Kurt Vile is not for everyone.

And to be fair, it is probably not going to make my top 5 shows of the year either, but the man has written a couple of damn good and I don’t think I could have enjoyed my Monday night out anymore than I did.


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