Kurt Vile and The Violators, Woods, Arc in Round @ Brighton Music Hall, July 11, 2011
A few weeks ago Woodsist label head (and head Woods guy) Jeremy Earl tweeted a terse message about the defection of two of his label's bands (Real Estate and spin-off act Ducktails) over to Domino, but apparently there are no hard feelings for ex-labelmate Kurt Vile, and together they kicked off a fairly lengthy US tour in the same exact club where Real Estate opened for Vile last summer. The pairing was exquisite, along the lines of a fine Sauternes with sweetbreads, or champagne and oysters. Vile and his band The Violators play a more bristly, muscular sort of rock as compared to the spindly, woolly, sometimes delicate sound that's crafted by Woods. Vile's been riding a slow but steady wave ever since Woodsist reissued Constant Hitmaker on LP in 2009, and the pace accelerated when his records started showing up with the Matador imprint on them.
Smoke Ring For My Halo is certainly his strongest batch of songs yet, and should find itself on plenty of 'best of' lists as winter approaches. The songs benefited from having a seasoned producer in John Agnello at the helm, and the years of touring has made The Violators into a certified rock machine. His profile has also been raised by the pals he's accumulated along the way, sharing stages (and sometimes recording studios) with the likes of Thurston Moore and J Mascis. The touring schedule of The War On Drugs was offset so that Adam Granduciel was able to play on this tour, and mainstays Mike Zeng (drums) and Jesse Turbo (guitar, sax) were also on violating duties. Zeng's got an interesting style, and can play alongside a pre-recorded track ("Freak Train") just fine, and also has no issues using just his bare hands or sometimes a maraca to hit the drum heads and cymbals and the bass-less attack of the band doesn't find itself rudderless with respect to the low end. Songs like "Peeping Tomboy" and "On Tour" underscore just how much Vile's moved the needle on his song-writing quality. Vile is at ease with a variety of styles- chord vamps that effortlessly float towards a vanishing point ("Society Is My Friend"), slightly somber ponderings, close and emotional as if you are stealing a peek at Vile's diary ("Ghost Town," "On Tour"), or impassioned covers that belie previous influences (Springsteen's "Downbound Train". though Dim Stars' "Monkey" wasn't played tonight). Hunched over his guitar, one eye peeking through the long cascade of brown hair; if you see this sight, it's an iron-clad guarantee that audio treats will follow.
Woods wasn't your straight run-of-the-mill band of freaks. Inside the wool-gathering moments was some sharp, incisive songwriting, but they also had no problem circling the wagons and preparing for a long journey into the ether. Their sound is notably augmented by whatever Gabriel Lucas Crane happened to be doing, providing a rich tapestry of sonic waves via the real-time manipulation of analog cassettes, and treated vocals that are sung/moaned/screeched into a pair of headphones that are worn in an unusual manner (one ear piece at the mouth, the other at the base of the skull). Leader Earl is another case of a twist to the expected, combining his upper register, sweet vocal style to a guitar sound that can get downright rude at times (and that's meant in the best possible manner). Touring on their new Sun And Shade in front of receptive audiences should swell the ranks of Woods fans.
Opener Arc in Round managed an icy, post-punk sound that had touches of goth here and there. A pretty safe bet would have the presence of Joy Division, Echo and the Bunnymen, and possibly Sisters Of Mercy or Red Lorry Yellow Lorry on one of their ipods. An independent opinion towards their stage look could help matters, though.