Kurt Vile, Wakin On A Pretty Daze. Photo: Shawn Brackbill
The last time Kurt Vile was in town, he was opening for Thurston Moore at the 2011 Twilight Concert Series. Although that was only two short years ago, Vile’s stock and popularity has grown exponentially since that time. It’s a direct result of two exceptional albums, beginning with 2011’s Smoke Ring for My Halo, and his new album, Wakin On A Pretty Daze, which was released back in April. After playing to a large crowd numbering in the thousands at San Francisco’s Outside Lands festival on Sunday afternoon, Vile brought his signature sound, a gentle, mumbling delivery paired beautifully with phenomenal chops on guitar, both acoustic and electric, to the intimate setting of the Urban Lounge on Tuesday night.
The San Francisco rock quintet Sonny & the Sunsets opened the show, dumping a heap of mellow, garage rock tunes over the audience. Led by musician Sonny Smith, the band’s sound is reminiscent of small rock groups from 50 years ago, with simple chord changes and laid-back arrangements accompanying Smith’s subtle vocals. There’s no question that the band is good at what they do, but the repetitive, nonchalant demeanor of their songs appeared to take its toll on the crowd, perhaps being too laid-back overall, as the audience appeared rather dazed and unresponsive for the most part.
That all changed, however, when Kurt Vile and his band, the Violators, took the stage to a jubilant ovation from the crowd. With a plethora of pedals and effects at his feet, Vile took a minute to get everything dialed in, checked the microphone, and then laid into the opening riff of “Jesus Fever.” The great cut from Smoke Ring quickly got the crowd tuned back in, as they began to move and nod their heads to the beat. The next tune “Wakin On A Pretty Day,” the longest and one of the best from the new record, set up what was to follow the rest of the night—pure fucking bliss.
Vile’s sound was not as clear and pristine as that found on the record, but he and the Violators made up for it with intensity and soul. It’s also pretty mind blowing to see the wizardry of how Vile achieves such unique, trippy sounds from a guitar. His left hand never seems to stop moving up and down the fret board, while his right hand is just as busy strumming the strings, tweaking guitar knobs, and occasionally adjusting effects pedals mid-song with Vile kneeling down on stage.
The set consisted of a heavy dose of tunes from Wakin On A Pretty Daze, but Smoke Ring was also represented a fair amount as well. One of the highlights of the night came about midway through their set as the Violators left Vile alone on stage for a couple of acoustic songs, including “Peeping Tomboy.” The delicate song sounded even more vulnerable and sincere, as the crowd became relatively silent as it was played. Vile’s ability to switch between electric and acoustic so flawlessly is pretty stunning, as he is very proficient and devastating in both styles.
When the Violators, Jesse Trbovich, Rob Laasko and Vince Nudo, rejoined Vile on stage, the last few songs culminated with a thunderous rendition of “Freak Train,” a cut off of Vile’s 2009 album Childish Prodigy. Following a quick break, the band emerged for a short two-song encore, which included the beautiful tune “Baby’s Arms” with a great sound and different arrangement than found on the original cut from Smoke Ring. Although Vile didn’t really talk much to the crowd or interact with them during his hour-and-a-half show, perhaps due to the long drive from San Francisco, it was pretty damn clear that he blew everybody away with his stellar performance.