all words: JEB Gavin
all photos: Farrah Skeiky
Early on in Kurt Vile’s set there occurred a sort of auditory Gruen transfer, wherein the collection of musical influences piled one atop another to stun and disorient the couple dozen people who bothered showing up this past Thursday night to Rams Head Live. Aside from the sheer amount of sound rushing out of the speakers, audience members were pinned in place, as though struck and forced to the ground under the weight of all that rock history and emotion.
Vile stood front and center of the stage, and rarely moved except to swap out guitars. A slim man, he looks a bit like an even longer-haired Nick Drake, which is apt as most biographic information describes him as a singer-songwriter. However, this label fails to encompass the depth of the music he makes; Kurt Vile is a rock historian, and his performance was a doctoral thesis writ loud.
Every bit of the show referenced some aspect of rock. The three guitar attack was reminiscent of a severely stripped down Lynyrd Skynyrd, without the drunken rednecks or mythology. The careful, delicate fretwork sounds Leo Kottke, but passed through a dozen pedals. The vocals are more akin to a dulled down Joey Ramone, though more eloquent than your average Lou Reed verse. The overall tone is dronier than grunge, but conveys the same fear and angst and guarded hope. Even the occasional saxophone riff called back to the earliest days of rock and roll- bits of Jackie Brenston hovering behind walls of guitar sound.
The few people who bothered showing up seemed dumbfounded. This was clearly heavy music. Alone and armed with something as innocuous as an acoustic guitar, Kurt Vile makes it seem as though this was just another day in the lecture hall.