Review: Kurt Vile & The Violators – Limelight, Belfast
Following the launch of his new album Bottle It In in October, singer songwriter Kurt Vile and his band The Violators have been touring Europe extensively for over a month. Making a stop in Belfast’s Limelight, it’s their final European show.
Opening the set we have an unconventional meeting of guitar with harp from Meg Baird and Mary Lattimore.
Grunge-infused melancholia meets spritely harp pirouettes – it’s a jarring, disruptive layering of instrumentals on first listen but the discordance somehow works, unavoidably bringing to mind the marmite-esque, ever so slightly demented “freak folk” of Joanna Newsom’s debut album The Milk Eyed Mender. “This is our last night on tour” Mary Lattimore tells the crowd. “We’ve been on tour with Kurt Vile for around 32 shows.” The chilled out atmosphere of the pair’s set is the perfect precursor to Vile’s laidback country rock.
Slow, lumbering guitar forms the foundation of their music while the harp overlay kindles a sound that is at once both eerie and introspective. Despite the low sound quality and consequent difficulty hearing Lattimore speaking to the crowd, as a support act the pair garner traction from an engaged audience.
Kurt Vile & The Violators don’t keep the crowd waiting. Vile and his band amble out on stage punctually, seeming humbly indifferent to the eruption of cheer from the audience. At 38 years old Kurt Vile is, against all odds, continually rocking an aesthetic reserved nowadays almost exclusively for that high school stoner kid who has a newfound penchant for Iron Maiden. His long curly locks have a refreshing sense of homage and admiration for the original unruly rock n roll look we have the likes of Neil Young and Jim Morrison to thank for.
After welcoming the audience with the words “Yeah, s’alright”, Vile & The Violators begin into “Loading Zones”, the opening track on his latest album. The country influenced rock instrumentals are a faultless match with the album while the vocals, that unmistakable country-esque drawl, is enriched with inflection and cadence that only a live performance can convey.
Their songs are like a meandering, unhurried stroll and this produces a mellow atmosphere in Belfast’s Limelight. “Bassackwards” is the perfect example of this metaphorical meandering. This (almost) 10 minute pensive haze of a song is imbued with bleary-eyed, confused introspection. The simplistic leading guitar melody expands into an extensive solo through which Vile brings a new vibrancy to the tranquil performance.
Swapping the guitar for his banjo Vile starts into “Outlaw”. The banjo is, notably, the first instrument that Vile learned to play. In an interview with About Entertainment he noted “When I was 14, he [his father] bought me a banjo, which I kind of wished was a guitar. So I’d kind of just play it like a guitar anyway.” It’s easy to see on tracks like “Outlaw” how Vile has paired his country music beginnings with a love for rock music.
Drawing on somewhat of a country caricature in tracks such as “Outlaw” and “Balls to the Wall”, Vile’s live performance enhances this with a crowd rallying “woo” or “aw shiet” added in for good measure throughout his set.
However, beneath this dawdling country emphasis there’s a depth in Vile’s sound and we bear witness to this with somewhat anguished moments in his set such as the extremely raw performance of “Peeping Tom”. Transpiring into an electric guitar solo littered with heavy riffs, it feels far removed from the initial country melodies we’ve seen up to this point.
“You’re looking sexy Belfast” Vile notes at one point during the set to which the audience responds with gusto. He also tells the audience that it’s their last night on their European tour, that they’d be heading back to the US tomorrow and it seems that this isn’t without a certain sense of relief on Vile’s part after what has undoubtedly been a tiring stint far from home.
Hits “Yeah Bones” and “Pretty Pimpin” are performed with the familiarity expected with any artist’s most popular songs. An extended performance of “Freak Train” from 2009 album Childish Prodigy suitably closes off what has been an impressive set. With no encore it’s clear Vile & The Violators are keen to get on their freak train back to the US and wrap up the European tour.