Review by Roy Trakin.
Kurt Vile and the Violators and Cass McCombs – Fonda Theatre, L.A – October 14, 2015.
In a delicious coincidence, Adam Granduciel’s ex-founding member of The War on Drugs, was in town to promote his own just-released critically acclaimed sixth studio album, b’lieve I’m goin down… (Matador Records) in which Vile goes back to the country with a Neil Young Topanga Canyon vibe.
Live, the songs are more Crazy Horse than After the Gold Rush, as the long-haired Vile takes the stage to the kind of ovation that suggests he could be following his ex-mates to larger venues in the very near future. “This ain’t no disco,” he teased the crowd with his David Byrne paraphrase. “This ain’t no concert club, either. This is L.A.!!”
He and the Violators opened up with a laconic, of bouncing “Dust Bunnies,” and the thick-bottomed “Pretty Pimpin,” which remarkably found a tune in the midst of cacophony. “Jesus Fever,” from 2011’s Smoke Ring for My Halo, touched on what seemed Vile’s other major influence, the Velvet Underground, while the brooding “Wheelhouse,” from the new album, had a fluid, spacy, gauze-like feel that is downright ghostly.
Vile pulls out a banjo for “I’m an Outlaw,” one of the centerpieces of b’lieve, a true melding of Young and Lou Reed. Kurt’s fuzz-toned garage guitars added an epic scope to “Goldtone,” the final track on 2013’s Walkin on a Pretty Daze. He donned an acoustic guitar and returned to a hidden track on 2009’s Childish Prodigy, “He’s Alright” for a spooky, “Sympathy for the Devil” vibe, then goes solo on “Stand Inside,” another new song. “KV Crimes” and Childish Prodigy’s rousing rockabilly rave-up, “Freak Train,” revs up the energy level, simulating a locomotive roaring through the station, leaving bugs in our teeth and a din in our ears – and completing the cycle, is joined on-stage by ex-mate Granduciel.
For the encore, Kurt calms it down for the country drone of “Girl Called Alex” and sits behind the keyboards evoking a very Suicide-like buzz for “Lost My Head There,” then returned solo, asking the crowd, “How many of you are in show business?” and, getting scattered boos, admitted, “I’m in show business.”
He finished on acoustic guitar with “All in a Daze Work” and its confessional refrain, ‘B’lieve I’m going down” repeated until it just as suddenly ended. After this performance, though, the only place Kurt Vile will be going is up.
Opening act, Concord, CA, native Cass McCombs, who similarly appeared with The War On Drugs last October at this same venue, has been releasing albums since 2003, and his band’s dream-like mix of both Young and Reed proved an apt appetizer, especially on compelling narratives like “Sooner Cheat Death Than Fool Love” and “County Line.”