Thurston Moore and Kurt Vile at Varsity Theater, 7/18/11
It was sweltering in the Varsity on Monday night. There had been promises (or at least statements made) that the air conditioning was going to be blasting for the night and, really, maybe that was true. However, the room quickly filled up and it was pushing 100º outside with a heat index of 110º give or take--it's a tough promise to keep in those conditions and was of little consequence when all was said and done.
Kurt Vile took the stage, backed by the Violators, about 15 or so minutes late but quickly got his set rolling. Vile and the Violators touch on several different genres (lo-fi, Americana, noise rock, etc.) while not fully giving over to any of them, and the end result sounds something akin to Tom Petty playing Dinosaur Jr. songs. There were tons of catchy hooks to grab onto, but the guitars yelped and howled just as often, occasionally giving way to full-on feedback. "Jesus Fever," Vile's recent hit and arguably his best song was absolutely stunning live and sounded like it could have been an outtake from both Petty's Full Moon Fever and Dino Jr.'s Where You Been?. It's unclear how, exactly, this is possible, but Vile and company have dug into some rare earth and don't show any signs that the digging will stop.
At times, the songs possess an odd inertia both in recorded form and live as if they continue almost despite themselves. They stopped long before the term "noodling" could be correctly applied, but the band often passed a lot of signposts getting from point A to point B, though none of those signs were particularly boring to look at as we passed them. They turned in a positively crushing version of "Ghost Town" and closed the 45-minute set with a slightly extended, noisy version of "Society Is My Friend."
Photo by Stacy Schwartz Photo by Stacy Schwartz
The temperature and general locker room stench were both rising in the Varsity but nobody really seemed too preoccupied with it, as a legend was about to hit the stage.
Photo by Stacy Schwartz
"Do you guys care if I run a film behind us while we play?" Thurston Moore queried as he and his band took the stage. He then when into a long story about hating TVs in restaurants, much to the crowd's delight. "What's the movie?" a showgoer asked. "It's Weekend At Bernie's--I haven't seen it yet." Moore deadpanned. In actuality the film was what appeared to be--among other things--clips of sock hop-type dances from the '50s, but the film had been altered and was often in slow motion; it resembled surrealism at it's absolute weirdest--Dali would have been proud. He opened the set with "Never Day" from 2007's Trees Outside the Academy and continued with "Orchard Street," one of the best songs from his new Demolished Thoughts. "I'm sweating like a white girl up here!" he joked after finishing.
There is a strange dichotomy at work in Moore's new songs, with everything built around a mostly acoustic guitar. It underlines in thick, black marker his genius as a guitar player and showcases what an innovator he has been for nearly 30 years, but it also takes some of the teeth out of what got him recognized in the first place. To be sure, Moore can--inexplicably--still turn an acoustic song in to beautiful, unbridled noise, but there was no skull-shattering wall of feedback at any point during the set like you would get at a Sonic Youth show, and it was missed. However, the set highlighted that Moore is not Sonic Youth, alone, and it was comforting to know that; the songs are wonderful in their own way.
The set wore on with "Blood Never Lies" and "Friend," and Moore closed the 60+-minute set with the stellar "Circulation" and that could have--should have--been enough. The crowd cheered for an encore and and encore (of sorts) is what they got. It was just two songs, but the second one left a bit of a black mark on the show overall. Moore sang the lyrics while holding the lyric sheet in front of him and delivered them in a poetry-slam sort of way. With the way the rest of the set had gone, it was so out of place it was simply off-putting. Overall, it had been a wonderful (if slightly talky) set by Moore and company, but the last few minutes proved that the set had been just a few minutes too long.
Critic's Bias: I have been a fan of Moore's for more than twenty years, the last sentences of this recap notwithstanding, he can do very little wrong in my eyes.
The Crowd: Lots of older alt-rockers--including Moore's peer, Lori Barbero.
Overheard In The Crowd: "Kurt Vile looks like that annoying hippie dude at a party who whips his guitar out and ends up going home with the hottest girl there."
Random Notebook Dump: Thurston Moore just name-checked Impaler. WTF?
Photo by Nick Wosika Thurston Moore performing at the Current studios yesterday Photo by Nick Wosika Thurston Moore's backing guitarist playing the Current studios Photo by Nick Wosika Photo by Nick Wosika
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