OAKLAND — Kurt Vile and the Violators stopped by the Fox Theater Wednesday and put on an impressive performance, stringing together a set brimming with long, melodic ballads that intermingled with waves of intense and destructive distortion.
Kurt Vile, who released his album, Bottle it In, in October, sauntered on stage with his Philadelphia band and jumped straight into the album’s first track, “Loading Zones.” “Back is aching but I cannot sleep/ ‘Cause I want to be like I am the mayor of some godforsaken town,” he groaned over the tight, rhythmic backing of the Violators. When he finished the song, Vile promptly began the dreamy guitar hook of older track “Jesus Fever.” The Violators quickly erupted into a tight groove, which complemented Vile’s twangy guitar riffs.
“When I’m a ghost I see no reason to run/ I’m already gone,” Kurt Vile sang in his lackadaisical mumble.
He then switched to his acoustic guitar for new cut “Bassackwards.” The minimal, drawn-out melody of the song contrasted well with the previous track’s funky attack. His subtle lyricism shined especially bright on the song’s clean instrumentation. These quieter moments seemed to strike an emotional chord with the attentive audience as Vile sang, “From all the scorn buried deep/ Within the psyche of my soul/ I was standing down but I was also on the run.”
Vile broke out the banjo for the next song, “I’m An Outlaw.” The Violators turned up the volume while he demonstrated his country-rock influences. “I’m an outlaw on the brink of imploding!” he bellowed. The banjo gave the song a unique texture and provided a refreshing change from the previous guitar-dominated tracks.
An aspect of the band’s performance that was especially impressive was the way that the musicians would constantly change instruments and tunings. After almost every song, techs would run onto stage to trade guitars. Vile also employed an impressive set of guitar and vocal effects, which added to the overall sonic diversity of the performance. On “Walking on a Pretty Day,” Vile used heavy distortion and a classic wah-wah pedal on his acoustic guitar to create a vibrant, yet crunchy tone. Vile then ripped a piercing solo on the acoustic guitar that riled up the audience.
Other fan favorites included “Girl Called Alex.” The cut’s softer tones underscored his technical prowess on the guitar—skills sometimes less noticeable in his louder, heavily amplified songs.
Vile kept a steady, even-keeled attitude on stage throughout the night. Between tracks, he would shyly banter with fans and would often let out a sharp “Whoo!”Despite his famously cool persona, kept the energy alive in the room all night.
Singer-songwriter Jessica Pratt began the night with a strikingly intimate and heartfelt 30-minute set. Pratt was only accompanied by a keyboardist. By employing this level of minimalism, she was able to effectively whisper her beautifully haunting vocal melodies. Her feathery and visceral voice floated over the deep rich tones of her acoustic guitar.
Pratt’s densely saturated vocals made many of her lyrics indiscernible but the visceral meanings of the songs were undeniable. The audience was drawn into near silence in order to hear the nuance of her delivery.
Her fingerpicking style and use of alternative guitar tunings gave her a similar sonic quality as artists like Nick Drake and Iron & Wine. Pratt’s performance left some fans in a trance and set the stage for the night.