Kurt Vile and the Violators at the Rhythm Room, 7/31/2011

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Kurt Vile and the Violators The Rhythm Room July 31, 2011

I spent the day in Flagstaff on Saturday, and shortly after having lunch at Mountain Oasis International Restaurant, a woman approached me with a small flier which read: "Real Freedom is Closer Than You Think." Turns out, she was a Christian woman spreading the word of God. And by God I mean Bob Mammen, pastor of the Flagstaff Christian Center.

I held onto the flier until I was out her immediate line-of-sight, and eventually found a Flagstaff municipal receptacle to dump in; I thought nothing of it. The next morning, I woke up with "Jesus Fever".

I'd gone to bed Saturday listening to Kurt Vile's Smoke Ring for my Halo on repeat, and track two, "Jesus Fever", was playing when I rose from the dead of sleep Sunday morning.

Fittingly enough, Vile (who has Christ-like long hair) played the Rhythm Room last night with his band, the Violators--Jesse Turbo, Adam Granduciel, and Mike Zeng.

By the time the quartet got around to playing "Jesus Freak", the third song of their set, Vile had already displayed his stringed-instrument dexterity on a twelve string and a six string guitar. Opting for a Fender Jaguar on "Jesus Freak", he sang "I pack my suitcase with myself but I'm already gone/I cleanse myself with that atoning hell, but I'm already gone."

The reverb on his vocals is as ever-present as the comparisons to Neil Young, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen and Tom Petty--and rightfully so (he even covered Springsteen's "Downbound Train").

As a songwriter, Vile's lyrics are cleverly poetic, and often delivered with a hint of snark. As a musician, he's on par, if not better, than a lot of those names. A solo performance of "Peeping Tomboy" demonstrated both his sharp writing ability, and disciplined guitar work.

Whether he's strumming, fingerpicking, or looping sounds, Vile's extraordinary musicianship is evident. He's a perfectionist, and proved so when the right sound wasn't coming out of his twelve-string midway though the set.

"We won't do that one," he said, and in a rare exchange with the audience, he joked, "Jesse broke my twelve string earlier today." That inspired someone in the crowd to yell something along the lines of "Top Gun," which made very little sense.

Confused, Vile asked, "Top Gun?" and naturally someone else in the crowd replied, "Do it, Maverick!"

Shortly thereafter, Vile and the boys broke into "Freak Train", a track off 2009's Childish Prodigy, and my favorite song of the evening. It demonstrated the group's musical prowess as whole, highlighting Mike Zeng's incredible drumming (the dude plays barehanded on some tracks, substituting drumsticks with mallets and maracas on others), and guitarist Adam Granduciel's Jesse Turbo's saxophone chops.

The show came to a close shortly thereafter, and Vile thanked Phoenix for being a beautiful audience. He also reminded us to swing by the merch table.

Just think: if Neil Young comparisons translated into Neil Young money, Vile wouldn't have to push t-shirts. What an industry, huh?

Correction: I originally reported that Adam Granduciel played sax on "Freak Train", when in fact Jesse Turbo handled the sax part. The correction has been made. Sorry for the mix-up.

Critic's Notebook

Random Dump: Don't bitch about not being able to see the stage from your seat--you're at a rock 'n' roll show. Pick up your skirt, grab your balls and stand the fuck up, or shut your mouth.

The Crowd: People that love music, and a few bros that couldn't see Kurt from their stage-right table.

Partial Set List: "On Tour" "Jesus Fever" "Freeway" "Ghost Town" "Hunchback" "Freak Train" "Runner Ups" "Peeping Tom" "Downbound Train" (Bruce Springsteen cover) "He's Alright"

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