Kurt Vile & The Violators August 15, Brooklyn Bowl.
Whenever I feel like Vegas might be inching closer to making the indie-rock all-star circuit—when acts like Deerhunter, Wolf Parade, Grizzly Bear or even Godspeed You! Black Emperor could make this place a regular tour stop—something happens to quash the notion.
The latest harsh reminder came Monday at Brooklyn Bowl, where another member of that must-see club, Philly singer-songwriter Kurt Vile, drew maybe a couple hundred bodies for his first headlining gig here (his only previous Vegas’ appearances: a side-stage set at 2010’s Matador at 21 festival at the Palms and an opening slot for Bright Eyes at the Cosmopolitan pool in 2011). Since then all he’s done is release two acclaimed albums, 2013’s brilliant Wakin on a Pretty Daze and last year’s solid B’lieve I’m Goin Down.
Sure, Mondays weren’t made for concerts, especially when they involve a trip to the Strip. And yes, the night’s lone opener, the Kansas-based Your Friend, is both relatively unknown ’round these parts and a bit too sleepy to corral fans by the busload via YouTube or Spotify. But Vile deserved better from Las Vegas, especially given the performance he delivered while gazing out across his modest turnout.
The 36-year-old guitarist and his four-piece backing band, The Violators, blazed from the outset, producing a dense, enveloping sound built from precise instrumentation. The first five numbers could have served as a newbie’s primer, with Vile switching instruments—electric and acoustic guitars and a banjo—for each tune while tapping all three of his best-known LPs, the aforementioned B’lieve and Wakin, plus 2011’s Smoke Ring for My Halo.
For song six, “Stand Inside,” Vile stood alone onstage, his acoustic fingerpicking accompanied only by his relaxed, conversational lyrics. That cut namechecks a Bob Dylan tune (“Girl From the North Country,”) appropriate for a man who, like Dylan, sees his catalog as an evolving entity. The radiant “Wakin on a Pretty Day” and encore selection “On Tour, for example, found Vile shifting his vocal tempo and phrasing, and even recent single “Pretty Pimpin” was altered enough to make singing along an adventure, in the best possible way.
The Bowl’s sound mix, sterling from the go, seemed to somehow improve as the night wore on, so that by the time the five musicians jammed out the raucous “Freak Train”—the lone pre-2011 song in the 75-minute workout—it felt like we were witnessing a concert-of-the-year contender. Good thing, since it's doubtful either Vile's camp or the folks who run our music rooms will book a return engagement anytime soon..
“I’m an Outlaw”
“That’s Life, Tho (Almost Hate to Say)”
“Wakin on a Pretty Day”
“Girl Called Alex”
“Puppet to the Man”