all words: Nina Slesinger
all photos: Sam Graves
As opening acts go, Woods is a keeper. Playing before Kurt Vile at Rock & Roll Hotel Wednesday night, the band played a lengthy set culled from a grab bag of genres. Sprinkled amongst dreamy garage jams were sunny ballads and acoustic love songs–all pleasant, and all with a strong gaze on the sixties.
Kurt Vile and his band, the Violators, took the stage a bit after ten o’clock to play their own brand of gauzy music, this one with a bit more growl. This contradiction of snarling and dreamy defines of of Kurt’s aesthetic. While he has wavy brown hair extending past his shoulders, it doesn’t appear he’s even capable of growing a beard. He’s around thirty, but his face is boyish with Troll doll dimples and a small smirk. He’s somehow capable of using his voice to both moan lyrics about hard times and happily dedicate a handful of songs to friends and roadies.
This is a rock star who spent the time before his set crouched onto a corner of the stage listening to his tourmates. He stood on his tippy-toes during some songs. He wore jeans and a t-shirt and sneakers, and so did his bandmates. Nobody looked fancy but everybody was happy. It became apparent early in the set that while Kurt’s music may fall on the straightforward side of lo-fi rock, his person does not.
And this non-fancy straightforward lo-fi rock? It’s really, really good. And on Wednesday night, Kurt and his band played tracks both new and old with impressive punch and skill. Twelve-string guitars were picked, cymbals were pounded with bare hands, maracas were shaken, and, I must state again, songs were sung with the most endearing drone I’ve ever heard. Kurt’s been gifted with an warm drawl and he uses it to his advantage when he stretches words like “Alriiiiiight” out over dangling guitar strums.
The highlight of the set came in a loud, shoegazing rendition of album-standout “Jesus Fever,” which Kurt dedicated to Woods. Other sweet banter came when a girl in the audience yelled for Kurt to take his shirt off. He declined, saying it was too hairy. “Sike!” he added, with a playful smirk. This joyful attitude came through in every aspect of Kurt Vile & the Violators’ set. They’re like rock n’ roll enthusiasts, getting every inch of pleasure out of the guitar-based song, referencing “Freebird,” and never forgetting to thank the sound guy, who has been “a sweet dude.”