Kurt Vile and the Violators – July 31, 2012 – Meet Factory – Prague, Czech Republic

Kurt Vile - Prague - Meet Factory

I wanna write my whole life down
Burn it there to the ground
I wanna sing at, top of my lungs
For fun, screamin’ annoyingly
‘Cause that’s just me bein’ me, bein’ free

Kurt Vile – “On Tour”

John Hiatt introduced me to the idea of a musician as “a lifer” when I interviewed him many years ago.  The concept is pretty simple.  It just means that the musician in question is going to keep on writing, recording and touring until he drops.  I would imagine that Kurt Vile imagines himself a lifer as well.  Four albums into his career, it’s hard to see him doing anything else.

Tuesday night’s show was fairly well attended for the day of the week and the relative obscurity of a guy like Vile in the Czech Republic.  The crowd that did show up appeared to be full of pretty serious fans.  That said, never have I seen so many people in their mid-20’s make out one minute and then sing along to the words of the song the next.  That was some serious multi-tasking.  I’ve also never had that many shots spilled on my feet as the same demographic brought round after round up to the front of the stage for their friends.  I don’t begrudge them.  It was just sort of inexplicable.

But it was strangely fitting for a Kurt Vile concert.  His songs careen from romantic finger plucked acoustic ballads to feedback-drenched, drone fests.  Despite my impression from various YouTube clips and laconic singing on his albums that Vile is a classic stoner, he looked unbelievably lucid and technically solid at Tuesday’s show.  Stage banter was largely not-existent and his band struggled to keep up with him as one tune ended and another began.

The set list contained about 50% of the songs from “Smoke Ring for My Halo” and the rest from other releases.  His backing band, The Violators, lent some serious heft to the occasion.  On “Freak Train,” the whole band made some serious, ear-splitting noise.  Alternately, on songs like “Peeping Tomboy,” restraint and the folky side of Vile showed through.  It’s this space between loud and soft that Vile seems to travel with ease.  So much so that if he ever puts out a best of album, I’d recommend calling it “Songs to Make and Rock Out To.”

Liberation Celebration 2012 – Prague, Czech Republic

When living overseas, there aren’t a ton of places for Americans to celebrate the greatness of our nation.  (Yes, I love my country.  Yes, I know it’s not in fashion.  Deal with it.)  So when the celebrations commemorating the liberation of the Czech Republic from the Nazi occupation came around, I jumped at the chance to partake.  I also took the opportunity to take Little NH1 along for a bit of a history lesson.

Five years may seem like a tender age to be learning about geopolitics of the past and present but I’d rather get my viewpoint in there before she gets a skewed version from some other source.  On our walk to the event, we talked in general terms about WWII and about what brave American soldiers did for the Czech people and much of Europe all of those years ago.  I explained that the Czechs are our allies (like our friends) and described Hitler and the Nazis (a big army led by a very, very bad man).  It seemed to click with her and I’m looking forward to hearing her version in a few days or weeks when I least expect it.  That’s how those things happen.

The celebration itself took place on a warm Friday morning in front of the US Embassy in Prague.  Though the US actually only liberated the country up through Plzen in the west, the celebration starts in Prague and continues around the country for the next week or two.  The street in front of the embassy was lined with restored motorcycles and Jeeps belonging to enthusiasts from around Europe.  A big band was assembled on the street and played patriotic songs and swing tunes of the era.

Little NH1 heard Glenn Miller’s “In the Mood” and appeared to be just about as taken by it as her dad.  An impromptu Czech couple danced to the music and the crowd mulled around admiring the vehicles and the glorious weather and celebrating the commemoration of the liberation of the Czech people.

As we walked away from the celebration to return her school, she told me, “Daddy, I’m glad we’re Americans.”

Mission accomplished.

Sting – February 18, 2012 – Kongresové Centrum – Prague, Czech Republic

The first concert I ever paid my hard earned cash for was Sting.  To say I’ve been a fan of him for a long time is a big understatement.  So, when I give a review that is less than stellar, it means something.

I purposefully avoided his last “Symphonicity” Tour stop in Prague.  I couldn’t bear to hear the man that penned “Born in the 50’s” add an orchestral, candy-coated gloss to his work.  It all just felt so Yanni.  But when I saw he was coming this time for the “Back to Bass” tour, I was encouraged and snapped up a ticket shortly after they went on sale.

Last night’s show was not the same guy I saw playing with Stewart Copeland and Andy Summers as the Police in Munich a few years back.  This was clearly “late period” Sting.  The good news is I like his later albums from “Mercury Falling” to his last non-symphonic album “Sacred Love”.  Interestingly enough, it appeared that the man himself seems to favor that material.  It’s as if those songs were written more in his present state of mind, therefore, he can really get deep into the performances.

Stylistic differences aside, Sting was, as always, a stellar musician surrounded by other stellar musicians and then some musical sideshow that just distracts from the whole performance.  In this case it was a skinny, blonde, shrill singer/violinist that seemed to extend the high notes for Sting, play some OK parts on her fiddle and then annoy the rest of the time.  This isn’t the first occasion of Sting having a clown on stage.  Those who follow him will remember names such as Vinx and Kipper.  You come to expect it, actually.  That’s why it was such a relief when he reformed with the Police – there you knew the only clown would be Steward Copeland and that he was only doing it to annoy Sting.

All gripes aside the show was good.  Not great but good.  It was solid with an interesting mix of deep album cuts (Love is Stronger than Justice, I Hung My Head) thrown in to avoid the hit barrage.  If you’re a fan, go see him.  He’s coming back to Prague this summer.  Just know that when you plunk down your cash, there’s a clown that comes with the package.