Kurt Vile at Lucerna Music Bar, Prague 06-17-13

Kurt Vile Lucerna Prague

Kurt Vile Lucerna Prague

I have been to some pretty loud concerts in my day.  I remember Sugar at Deep Ellum Live during my freshman year in college.  Doves at the 9:30 club as a young professional just starting out in Washington, DC also left an indelible mark on my ear drums.  On Monday night, Kurt Vile and the Violators set out to prove that they could one-up even the loudest Bob Mould amp setup.  They made their point.

There’s something about Kurt Vile’s unlikely success that really draws me to his music.  This former Philly forklift driver turned dad of two daughters by day and rockstar by night is a pretty cool story.  The fact that he relays all of that in his lyrics in is laconic, wry drawl accent surrounded by some truly beautiful arrangements makes his work all the more compelling.  The other side of Kurt Vile is the side that is not afraid to rock.  From the first notes of “Wakin’ on a Pretty Day,” it was clear that the rockier, Dinosaur Jr. influenced side of Vile was going to tower over the folkie acoustic strummer on this Monday night.

Having lived through 30 years of concert going, there’s no doubt that this one was the loudest.  And though I felt bad about possibly showing up at my daughters’ weddings in some future year not being able to hear any of the vows being exchanged, on a selfish level, I loved the noise.  Don’t get me wrong, I love Vile’s more mellow outings on Smoke Ring for my Halo and the Wakin’ on a Pretty Daze but I also love the bombast and cathartic feedback on “Freak Train.”  There’s something about watching a dude with Brady Bunch-worthy hair fill a thousand(s) year old Prague cellar with enough feedback to make half of the crowd leave before the encore.  I’m not joking – half of the people there left.  Had I not been there, I’m sure my wife would have been one of them.

My wife and I retreated back from the front of the show and I sheepishly plugged my ears as “Freak Train” exploded to its hairy close.  After a short encore break, Vile and Co. returned to play a beautiful, disjointed rendition of “Baby’s Arms.”  It was as if I had just witnessed a row in the preceding set and “Baby’s Arms” was Vile’s way of offering his apology.  Whatever it was, it was a fitting comedown to the most bombastic event I’ve ever witnessed in Prague.

Whether or not that’s a good thing depends on who you ask.

Note: Click on the photos in this post for moving GIFs!

Kurt Vile at Lucerna Music Bar, Prague 06-17-13

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.”