It was worth the journey from New York to Pennsylvania to catch Kurt Vile on close-to-home turf at a club known as Phantom Power. This unassuming venue with a small beer garden and microbrewery, sits off the main road in the rural college town of Millersville. A rare opportunity to experience a casual, intimate Friday evening performance with a great guitarist and songwriter..
Julia Shapiro and her band opened, bringing songs from her new solo album, Zorked. The former Chastity Belt singer embraces a dark and dreamy sound, swirling through songs like “Death (XIII)” and “Wrong Time”. Shapiro’s airy vocal quality acts as a counterpoint, bringing some levity to lyrics that would otherwise head for the depths. The combination is compelling, and she brought deft guitar skills on songs like “Someone” and “Natural”.
At this point, Kurt Vile has quite a catalog to pull from, including his latest album with The Violators (watch my moves). He chose a fine mix of new – “Hey Like a Child” plus a few tunes from his 2018 album Bottle It In, “Loading Zones”, “Bassackwards” and “Check Baby” to start the set. Quirky, laid-back and smart-ass, is how the lyrics flow, while Vile is a perfectionist live when it comes to guitar – switching models for almost every song. It’s playing at another level, something I’ve also witnessed seeing Adam Granduciel, Vile’s former band mate in The War On Drugs. Their style is different – with Vile leaning more into finger-picking folk, but both are awe-inspiring.
In 2020, Kurt had the good fortune of releasing an EP with the late songwriter John Prine – Speed, Sound Lonely. Midway through the set he performed solo acoustic on the Prine songs “Way Back Then” and “How Lucky” before the Violators returned for “Flyin (Live a Fast Train)” from the latest album. Familiar favorites followed including the introspective, wandering “Wakin’ on a Pretty Day” and snarky yet charming “Pretty Pimpin’”.
The first single from (watch my moves) “Exploding Stones” opened the encore, which ended with a Silver Jews cover. I wasn’t familiar with David Berman and Silver Jews (which also included Pavement’s Stephan Malkmus and Bob Nastanovich) until recently, when I heard the Black Keys’ Patrick Carney play them on his radio show. This respected Drag City band got a worthy tribute with Kurt Vile & the Violators ripping into their 2005 song “Punks in the Beerlight” to close out the show.
All Photos: Deb Johnsen