Kurt Vile And The Violators @ First Unitarian Church, LA 11/21/14

All through November, Red Bull Sound Select is running the event 30 Days In LA, during which they schedule a show a night, always at a different venue, bundling some of their own RBSS artists with artists like Run The Jewels, Phosphorescent, Cut Copy, and a bunch of others. Last night, it was Air Review, Little Tybee, and Kurt Vile & the Violators at the First Unitarian Church in LA. It was a unique setting for these kinds of things — this is actually a functioning church, with a courtyard between the main building and a large meeting room that served as a bar. Inside, the vibe was more intimate than your typical club show, with seating and chandeliers and the bands playing on a low, small stage. A Red Bull logo hung behind them, while #30DaysInLA was projected onto the walls on either side of the stage.

Air Review and Little Tybee are both indie bands with folk leanings. For Air Review, this meant the big “oh oh oh” refrains that have proliferated in the wake of Arcade Fire. Considering they are a five piece with standard instrumentation, some of their songs have an impressive range and orchestration to them; I was stuck outside the church gates during their first song, but I was surprised to get inside and discover they didn’t have live horn players with them for that song’s dramatic bursts. Georgian natives Little Tybee probably leaned a bit harder in the folk direction, augmented with violin as well. They had a few anthemic-leaning songs themselves, but overall their material was a bit less epic, and served as a good transition between Air Review and Kurt Vile.

Depending on what aspect of Kurt Vile’s music you like, his live show can be a mixed bag. Almost perpetually in a state of stoned bliss, a lot of the mellower songs can drift weightlessly live. But the Violators can also bring some severe muscle to Vile’s live set, and when they go all Crazyhorse, things get really good. The setlist pulled near equally from all of Vile’s albums. After Vile started the show with a solo acoustic performance of “Runner Ups,” the band joined him and launched into a more swaggering version of “Wakin On A Pretty Day.” About forty minutes in, Vile did an extended solo acoustic bit, for about four songs. Things dragged a bit here. It made a lot of sense of the intimate setting and for a primarily seated concert, but, hey, it was also midnight and I never got off East Coast time so this part was all a bit sleepy, musically and experientially. Thankfully, the band soon rejoined them and they ran through highlights like “Freeway,” the noisy, psych-grunge set-closer.

After a brief encore break, Vile returned to the stage for a few more songs. He saved one of the night’s biggest highlights for the very last—his cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Downbound Train.” The cover originated on his So Outta Reach EP in 2011, and it’s an impressively bleary, distorted take on one of the best Springsteen deep cuts. Live, Vile growl-screams half the song, reaching an intensity that’s rare for him. I’d be curious to hear him go in that sort of direction more in his own work. Either way, it’s one of the best Springsteen covers by a contemporary indie artist, and I’m certainly never going to mind the opportunity to see Vile burn through the final minutes of a show with it.