If the waiting line spanning the length of the block outside the Slowdown didn’t make it clear, Kurt Vile is a man of the people. His flowing, unkempt locks and skewed posture aren’t reminiscent of any high-fashion models or celebrities. But that didn’t stop Vile and his backing band The Violators from selling out the spacious venue.
Vile’s specific take on the classic sounds of folk and Americana music has gained him an ardent following. His most recent release “Bottle It In” sent the band off on a tour through most of North America, stopping last night to play in Omaha.
The patrons who braved the frigid air in line made it clear that Vile was worth a few numb toes. The venue was packed wall to wall with fans looking to hear Vile’s relatably authentic tunes — and that’s exactly what they got.
After a warm introductory set courtesy of the Canadian country rockers in The Sadies, Kurt Vile and The Violators brought their concert experience up to the Slowdown’s vast main room stage. Vile took the stage first, decorating the trek to his guitar with the dramatic pop of a beer can. The band’s entrance was accompanied by smooth, howling synth noises that segued straight into the first jam of the night, “Loading Zones” from “Bottle It In.”
Vile stood hunched over his guitar adorned in a simple red flannel and jeans. He picked away seemingly without a care in the world, except perhaps for the meticulous guitar parts he twanged out of his instruments. Every aspect of Vile oozed his slacker, carefree style. His loose drawl of a vocal delivery could often have been mistaken for a conversation with the crowd, but it fit the folky instrumentation like the final piece of a jigsaw puzzle.
After realizing one of his guitar strings had fallen out of tune in the midst of one of his songs, Vile abandoned his riff to audibly retune the string. For any other band, this move would have completely derailed the song — for Vile, the arbitrary noises miraculously ended up complementing the tune’s lazy feel.
The four-piece band featured little permanence in instrumentation. Vile traded out acoustic, electric, and twelve-string guitars with what seemed like an endless supply, even acquiring a banjo at one point. Accompanists Jesse Trbovich and Rob Laakso both bounced around on guitars, basses and synthesizers. The resulting songs felt full, huge and diverse all while maintaining a classic rock feel that bordered on the sounds of Tom Petty or Lou Reed.
The Sadies earlier set brought speedy, upbeat, old school country tunes that featured heavy double-time sections and crazy delay effects that clarified to every listener that they weren’t listening to Kenny Chesney. Vile, on the other hand, slowed the night down into something supremely chill. His songs rarely featured any startling sections. Rather, Vile utilized his drawn out chord progressions and natural feeling, finger-picked melodic swells to create rich soundscapes that took the audience on a hypnotic aural adventure.
If the audience was a pond, the sounds of Vile and The Violators acted like a rock thrown into the water. The jangly guitars caused the crowd to ripple outwards from Vile’s perch on stage. Fans bobbed to the folk-influenced Americana vibes that acted like a deep tissue massage for anyone looking to unwind after a long Tuesday at work.
Vile and his crew teased the crowd with an early exit, but the fans earned an encore with their fervent cheers and unwillingness to leave. The band came back with three songs, “Hysteria”, the fan favorite “Pretty Pimpin,” then, finally, a stripped-down and intimate version of “Baby’s Arms,” which featured Kurt and his trusty acoustic guitar plus some tastefully sparse leads and shaker sounds.
The band’s songs had a lullaby feel throughout the set, with Vile’s nonchalance pervading the ears of every fan. By the time they ran out of songs, Kurt Vile and The Violators left the crowd blissfully soothed, satisfied and ready to hit the hay.