Photo by MEREDITH KLEIBER
Back home in Philly for their last U.S. date before embarking on their European tour, Kurt Vile and The Violators were greeted by a loving, sold-out crowd at Union Transfer Saturday night. After a double-opener featuring the folk-rocky stylings of Steve Gunn and the haunting lilt of Angel Olsen, Vile—face shrouded by his trademark brown mane—emerged onto the stage and opened the set with a stirring version of “Wakin on a Pretty Day,” which also serves as the opener on the Violators’ new album, Wakin on a Pretty Daze. “It’s good to be back home,” an all-white-clad Vile relayed to his fans before breaking out the always-alluring 12-string guitar to play “Jesus Fever” from 2010’s Smoke Ring for My Halo.
His guitar-playing, largely wispy with moments of authority (most notably displayed in “Peeping Tomboy” and “Hunchback”), always seemed to be wandering off into the distance somewhere, like a lost puppy or a dead letter. The psychedelic soundscape the Violators erected seemed to anesthetize the audience like a cocktail of whiskey and morphine. Wading through the crowd, it seemed that everyone was just a shell of themselves, swaying back and forth in slo-mo like junkies who had just gotten a fix. On the first encore, the melancholic “Baby’s Arms,” Vile and co. wove a beautiful web out of intersecting guitar threads, and their final song, “He’s Alright,” brought the audience back to Earth, landing gently on their feet having descended from the smoky, high-altitude labyrinth of Vile’s mind (which is right where he wanted us all along). There were brief intervals of monotony, and at times it was hard to tell where one song ended and another began, since many sounded very similar. But the palpable energy that the band brought to their homecoming — the warm thrill of confusion, that space cadet glow — prevailed in the end. — MEREDITH KLEIBER