Kurt Vile has just crested the wave that he’s been swimming out to for a while, and it looks like it’s gonna come crashing down on the head of multitudes of music fans in the near future. He easily (and quickly – there were some NYC folk in for this as they were shut out of the Bowery Ballroom show) sold out the same room that Thurston Moore couldn’t fill a few weeks ago, which is telling as Vile opened for Moore the last time he played in town. Oh, and the fact that he and The Violators taped as session for the Letterman show the night before. Momentum is on their side.
And for good reason – Smoke Rings For My Halo landed on a lot of 2011 best of lists, and it’ll be hard for the new Wakin On A Pretty Daze record to do no less. Confident in this material, and featuring a fuller band than previous shows, Vile hit the crowd with the crown jewel right out of the gate, the title track flowing easily and evenly and casting a warm glow. Having three guitarists (opener Steve Gunn sat in on a few songs, including this one) slowly and deftly shadowbox each other was sublime, and the song is anchored with a true honest to god bottom end via Rob Laasko’s bass playing. The slight uptick in tempo around the halfway mark is a crucial transition. It’s subtle but effective, which could easily describe Vile’s ouevre.
The band’s makeup has shifted a bit with Adam Granduciel off full-time for The War On Drugs, the drums currently manned by a maraca-less Vince Nudo, Mike Zanghi’s replacement, with only Jesse Turbo (guitar, occasional sax) is the holdover. In reality, such changes are a minor blip as the vision has been entirely Vile’s and he’s the skipper at the wheel. This show marks the tenth time I’ve seen him play since 2009 and the future only gets brighter.
Angel Olsen may be better known as occasional vocal foil to Bonnie ‘Prince’ Billy but she’s out on her own, showcasing her incredibly strong and precise vocals. Accompanied by a Danah Olivetree on cello (standing, no less!) and her simple guitar lines, her voice was the clear star here – powerful, arresting, captivating.
Steve Gunn pulled opening duties and played a focused set of blues-acquainted Americana that somehow managed to steer clear of the current wave to find himself in an isolated and very interesting oxbow. Most of his material I’m familiar with is instrumental guitar, and this three piece with his vocals is a departure but logical piece of his forward path. He’s currently getting some attention via the Golden Gunn collaboration with Hiss Golden Messenger, and his imminent record is one to watch for.