Kurt Vile & Woods – The Fleece, Bristol 7/9/11

Photographs by Nathan J. Haynes

On Classic Rock Magazine forums there are such halcyon topics of conversation as “How Long Was Your Hair?”, and “Haircuts (Huge Regrets)”. For pages, outraged debate ensues reflecting upon the incomprehensible reasons as to why Steve Vai cut off his wavy locks. Will he still be able to even PLAY the guitar?! Will he still be as wild with short hair?

It’s a bit like when the young impressionable musician decides that his idol’s more expensive guitar will make him a better player. Or the up and coming producer fathoms a tidy set of microphones name-dropped by Brian Eno to improve his mix. Like their contemporaries, a thick mane of hair is a significant weapon in the fledgling rock star’s arsenal. Kurt Vile (his real name) has spent countless hours with the classic American guitar music of Bob Seger and Tom Petty. And all those little eccentricities which form as a result of colossal musical attachment in one’s youth, have embedded themselves in Kurt’s sudden whirlwind of a year, rock n’ roll career.

The thick mane of hair, is obviously the defining feature of this gig for me. Kurt relentlessly hides behind it like a pair of curtains, despite reserved attempts to show his face to an absolutely heaving venue. The right hand side got it occasionally, whilst the left were left with a distinct lack of his 31-year-old boyish countenance. “When I first meet people, I’m pretty shy,” he says, and he’s certainly never met Bristol before.

What makes the hair thing even more of a quirky statement of membership, is the way it travels throughout his backing band, The Violators. The drummer wholly conforms to the vintage stereotype, whilst the lead guitarist swishes and smoulders with every prolonged chord. We all knew they were in the band, before they’d even taken to the stage.

But whether it’s investing in equipment, instruments, or hair, to emulate the people you admire. That’s only the first step in finding your own identity. Something exciting and original will always shine through, because we’re simply not these people we’re aspiring to be. They all want to be classic rock stars, but they’re not. Kurt and his band may incline towards these iconic songwriters he heard as a lad, but as a musician he’s much more experimental than them, which is a great great thing.

What quickly became apparent in this live environment, is that he almost lives perpetually in the moment Dylan went electric. Hey man, I can play beautiful crafted songs on my acoustic guitar, but I can also play it really fucking loud. And he really does, and for him, the contrast never gets old. But aside from the rip-roaring personal favourite of mine, ‘Freeway’, the older less-accomplished material loses its direction in the vigour of the expansive jams. The reduced volume allowed Kurt’s melodies and imperfect baritone voice more space. He’s always said he wants the audience to hear the different dynamics, but at that volume, it becomes near impossible.

It’s taken four albums, but Kurt Vile finally knows who he is, and I think everybody here agrees. As the audience chatter becomes a hushed murmur for any given song played off his masterpiece, Smoke Ring For My Halo.

Whereas Kurt was clearly very confident, Woods before them were noticeably nervy. But they had no reason to be. Afterwards I found a tweeter announcing his shock that Woods were the support act! He thought he was on his way to a Woods gig, with an unknown Philadelphia singer in support. High praise indeed, but deserved nonetheless. Six albums in six years is an excellent work ratio.

Decidedly truer to the psychedelic drone mantra, Woods dip effortlessly in and out of extensive bass ostinatos and atonal guitar work, whilst complimenting the improvisation with solid but simple 60s pop melodies and structures. Whilst singer Jeremy Earl is a great front man with a powerful falsetto singing style and personalised dress sense, the most impressive aspect for me was drummer and instrumentalist Jarvis Taveniere, who circulated around the stage skilfully caressing each instrument into an engaging performance. His lead guitar work specifically was particularly effective in enhancing Earl’s poppiest melodies. There was a split 7″ on sale between both bands, which is hardly surprising, since they complimented each other so well.

You can check out Woods playing ‘Blood Dries Darker’ at a recent New York show below:

Kurt Vile – ‘In My Time’

Woods – ‘Pushing Onlys’

All photographs by Nathan J. Haynes

-James Godwin, September 20th, 2011

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