Kurt Vile & his Violators have been regular visitors to Auckland since they first played here at The Kings Arms back in 2011. At their show last night at Auckland’s Town Hall they show no sign of wearing out their welcome.
It’s hard not to smile your way through much of a Kurt Vile gig. There’s just something about being in the same space as someone so clearly enjoying himself, playing such dreamy guitar and letting evocative lyrics roll off his tongue. Quirky side-glances towards the audience. And that hair. But first up is Jazmine Mary.
Jazmine Mary describes themself as a ‘visceral and haunting noir-folk artist’. A six-song set. Almost an intermission after the first song, unfortunately, as sound gremlins are sorted out.
Peter Mary on Keyboards. A brother, maybe? Who knows. Mystery abounds in their songs and presence. A little drinking from the same well as Aldous Harding maybe.
Ambient dark electric folk. Prowling vocals. Unsettling moments of banshee-like howls, then a return to composure until again they seem a tragic figure lost in grief.
A compelling stage presence. They command more audience attention than many support acts. We need to hear more of Jazmine.
Kurt Vile and the Violators
But for now, to a cacophony of whistles, Kurt Vile ambles onto the stage, hands in pockets, loose denim jacket, trademark long mop of hair. Slings on the first of seven guitars and it’s into the first song, Palace of OKV in Reverse (“There’s a great flood of blood/pumping through my heart”). Significantly, perhaps, Kurt begins with his ode to his home studio. Delicate, swirling and engaging.
Next up its a rumbling electric Loading Zones. On the heavier songs, Kurt and the Violators could almost be a 21st Century incarnation of Neil Young and Crazy Horse, such are the meandering songs, and searing delivery, lead singer lost in the moment under a waterfall of hair. Like Young and the Horse, you wonder when and how some songs are going to end. Epic flows of sound and rhythm. Each is a journey, full of observations along the way.
And then there are those little hoots he makes randomly – reminiscent of the grunts and sighs you hear Keith Jarrett doing in an entirely different genre.
Third time I’ve seen him and his acoustic guitar playing is more striking than ever. The hypnotic rhythms he conjures up on the dreamy Backasswards almost sound like banjo. No coincidence, perhaps; it’s apparently the instrument Vile first played.
First discernible words to the assembled are delightfully banal “We flew a long way to be here”. Spoken with the delight of an artist released from the bonds of Covid.
Vile’s singing at times feels like spoken word poetry accompanying his virtuoso plucking and strumming. On Runner Ups he picks a smaller acoustic guitar like he just emerged from the Appalachian hills. A segue, perhaps, for next up is a John Prine cover How Lucky. Homage to a late hero who it feels was here with us only yesterday.
Songs aplenty from his ninth album, 2022’s Watch My Moves. Breezy songs replete with repetition. Trancey rhythms and chord progressions. Flying (like a fast train) is a highlight. Mount Airy Hill, namechecks Kurt’s home near Philadelphia. Heightened appreciation of the local: the legacy of lockdowns perhaps. Scuff marks on his guitar speak to the vigour with which he plays. Business end of the set with Pretty Pimpin’ and Wakin’ On A Pretty Day .
In a three-song encore, Exploding Stones has Kurt playing a keyboard one-handed. And then the beautiful Cool Water. Closing song is a Silver Jews cover. Another nod to an influence.
There’s a beauty to a Kurt Vile gig, a sonic aesthetic that’s complemented by a keen observational disposition. Its ultimately celebratory of life. A zen perspective almost. Delivered with a wry smile that seems to be felt by all in the grandness of the Town Hall
Click on any image to view a photo gallery by Brenna Jo Gotje:
Kurt Vile & The Violators:
Jazmine Mary setlist
- Wet Mouth
- Keep my cool
Kurt Vile setlist
- Palace of OKV in reverse
- Loading Zones
- Hey like a Child
- Check Baby
- Runner Ups
- How Lucky (John Prine cover)
- Flying (like a fast train)
- Say the word
- Mount Airy Hill (way gone)
- Wakin’ on a Pretty Day
- Pretty Pimpin’
- Exploding Stones
- Cool Water
- Punks in the Beerlight (Silver Jews cover)
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