Photos by Abi Reimold | AbiReimold.22slides.com
It was a full house at Union Transfer on Saturday night as Philadelphia welcomed home Kurt Vile & The Violators for the last show of their U.S. tour. With strong openers and a career-spanning set list from the hometown hero, the night was jam-packed with stellar performances and a lot of love.
There’s an image of a couch and a heart on Vile’s now infamous Fishtown mural that reprises the line “There’s a place in my heart for all of my friends” from Wakin On A Pretty Daze’s “Goldtones” and that seemed to be the sentiment the Lansdowne native was going for during his set. An intangible sense of community could be felt between the crowd and the frontman, despite minimal verbal interaction. It was the clear the audience was well-versed in Kurt’s discography as they welcomed each eclectic twist and turn of the set list with claps and cheers. As Vile stood on the stage dressed in all white, surrounded by a hazy fog with a scaled-down version of the mural behind him and Technicolor lights bouncing around, the effect was similar to that of flying through the clouds during a sunset when the light cuts through just right – transcendent, magical and rare.
Starting off the night was fellow Lansdowne native Steve Gunn, touring in support of his upcoming Time Off LP. The guitarist / singer-songwriter was joined by bass player Justin Tripp and drummer John Truscinski and wowed the quickly growing crowd with his nimble guitar playing, starting off with “Old Strange” (a song that he has sometimes introduced as a tribute to the late Jack Rose) and closing with the epic “Lurker.”
Following a well-curated interlude playlist of Karen Dalton, John Fahey and The Incredible String Band, Angel Olsen took the stage with just her guitar and a cello player. Highlighting her recent Half Way Home record and stunning the audience with her unmistakable, Roy Orbison-esque voice, Olsen opened with “Always Half Strange” before hitting album stand-outs “Acrobat” and “Miranda” and slipping into a Grace Slick alter-ego for “The Sky Opened Up.”
The main event got underway with Vile strutting on stage in a leopard print-lined white leather jacket and his trademark hair looking especially lush. The band jumped right in with an exquisite rendition of the slippery and shimmery “Wakin On A Pretty Day,” the lead track from his latest full-length. Vile didn’t waste much time with witty banter between songs throughout his fourteen-song set, leaving the killer one-liners to the lyrics (though he did say it was “good to be back home” and professed his love for the equally-smitten crowd several times).
Moving from the new song into Smoke Ring For My Halo stand-out “Jesus Fever,” the route was set for the evening with the band digging into the back-catalog for more than half of the material and all sides of Vile’s multi-faceted musical personality getting some time in the light.
Following the crowd-pleasing “On Tour” Vile introduced his band: Rob Laakso on bass / synths, Jesse Trbovich on guitar / saxophone, and Vince Nudo on drums. Steve Gunn replaced former Violator guitarist Adam Granduciel for this tour.
Mid-way through the night brought the sing-along-friendly “Shame Chamber,” a well-placed cut that got the audience to bop their heads and move a little before the mood of the show shifted to the heavier “Ghost Town” and a pair of solo acoustic takes of “Snowflakes Are Dancing” and “Peeping Tom.”
Then things got really heavy as Vile called his band back on stage and reverted to his earlier lo-fi / hi-fuzz days with the loud, reverb-drenched “Hunchback” off of 2009’s Childish Prodigy. The crowd went especially wild after “Freak Train” closed out the main set with several minutes of distortion and noise accompanied by Trbovich on saxophone. With an encore of “Baby’s Arms” and “He’s Alright,” the evening came to a close with fans satisfied and in awe.