Kurt Vile sent a capacity London crowd home happy after the second of a brace of shows. Getintothis’ Will Neville was down the front.
Kurt Vile & The Violators played two nights at Shepherd’s Bush Empire as part of a short UK tour in support of new album Bottle It In, released last month.
Shepherd’s Bush Empire is one of those lovely old theatres now used as a gig venue, in the vein of Liverpool’s Olympia. One plus that is probably not replicated anywhere else is the ability to stand at the main bar to order or consume a drink while still being to see the stage face on.
It must have been done up slightly since this writer’s last visit there a decade ago, as there was some very effective air conditioning in operation, making staying down the very front a comfortable option.
Support on the night came from the duo of Meg Baird, formerly in Espers and collaborator with Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy, and Mary Lattimore, who has previously recorded with Steve Gunn and Vile himself.
Their music was a real contrast to the headline act, and indeed to most other live acts you see at a typical show. The first number combined Eno style ambient with the classical minimalism of the likes of Terry Riley or Steve Reich, as Meg’s electric guitar accompanied Mary’s looped harp.
Some of the subsequent tunes featured vocals, with other reference points being Velvet Underground-esque drones, Bert Jansch meets Karen Dalton minor key folk, or 1990’s freak folk like Devendra Banhart or Meg’s own Espers.
They closed with Wrecking Ball, originally from Neil Young’s 1989 album Freedom, with its 1995 Emmylou Harris cover probably more of an influence on their version.
The intermission music included The Replacements’ Tim classic Unsatisfied, a real slacker anthem in keeping with the headline act.
Their full band name sounds like a nice flashback to the bands of the 1950s and early 1960s, with The Violators being bassist Jesse Trbovich, Rob Laakso, mainly on guitar who also plays with shoegazers The Swirlies, and drummer Kyle Spence, also in Harvey Milk.
The set-list was somewhat changed from the previous night’s show at the same venue, which had been attended by Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie. There was a very strong focus on Bottle It In, which accounted for about half of the songs, including the opening trio.
Things started strongly with the new album’s laidback opener Loading Zones, perhaps the finest song in the rock canon about car parking. Feel free to name a better one!
The show was clearly well planned, even with the different selection of numbers, as a roadie came out onto the stage between practically every song to hand Kurt the appropriate guitar, or banjo in the case of b’lieve i’m goin down…’s I’m An Outlaw.
Bassackwards from Bottle It In was an early highlight, as was Check Baby, a stoner rock song about amphetamines. Slide guitar was a nice touch on Cold Was The Wind before the band left Kurt alone on stage for the touching Peeping Tomboy, originally from 2011’s Smoke Ring For My Halo.
A song intro mix-up before Mutinies revealed the somewhat impromptu nature of proceedings, with that song showcasing some gorgeous whammy bar work from Rob Laakso.
Puppet To The Man from Smoke Ring For My Halo was introduced by Kurt as “the next song is political”, although, as it was originally released in 2011, the line “and of course by this I am alluding I want him to die” presumably refers to someone other than the current incumbent of the White House.
The main set ended with Wild Imagination from b’lieve i’m goin down…, with the band only off stage for the expected couple of minutes before returning, with Kurt telling the crowd how much he loved us, not for the first time on the night.
Sadly, the encores didn’t include his version of Bruce Springsteen’s Downbound Train as at other recent shows, but instead we got three oldies of his own, starting with the fabulous Pretty Pimpin.
The very final tune harked back to 2009’s Childish Prodigy for Freak Train, a somewhat underwhelming ending given what had gone before, despite Jesse Trbovich switching to sax, with an extra guest on stage.
This was a night that satisfied the capacity crowd, with most of the songs coming across really well in a live setting, whether they be the shorter poppier numbers, or the ten-minute jams.