Thurston Moore and Kurt Vile at the Troubadour: Concert Review

Chris Godley
Kurt Vile
Bottom Line: Moore’s acoustic set proved to be beautiful, but Vile and his Violators, performing as the headlining band, stole the show. 

The Sonic Youth frontman opened for Vile and his band at the sold-out L.A. show.

Thurston Moore, famed front-man of the seminal rock outfit Sonic Youth, performed at the Troubadour in Los Angeles on Thurs., June 28 to a sold out crowd of adoring fans. But, to the audience's surprise, Moore brought forth a mature acoustic set interspersed with poetry readings, playful banter, and a black and white projection of women dancing in the background.

Moore shared the stage beneath the blue glow of the Troubadour sign with Mary Lattimore on harp, Samara Lubelski on violin, John Moloney from the Boston band Sunburned Hand of the Man on drums (whom Moore referred to as “the glue holding it all together”) and Keith Wood of opening band Hush Arbors helping out on acoustic guitar. Moore himself played an acoustic guitar. Their set focused mainly on songs from the 2011 acoustic album Demolished Thoughts, produced by Beck Hansen, and a few hits off of Trees Outside the Academy. Lubelski’s accompaniment on violin to Moore’s and Wood’s guitar was a perfect addition to the already intimate environment, and the subtle plucking of harp strings added a gentle, soothing compliment to Moore’s cutting vocals, his Sonic Youth engrained chords.

“We’re a band with no name,” said Moore in between songs, and had been touring as such for the last several months. The band’s synergy, nameless or not, was obvious, but their energy was a bit lackluster. “We’ve been drinking since 6 a.m.,” explained Moore, who performed that same morning with his untitled band on KCRW’s Morning Becomes Eclectic. Aside from an overly exuberant and somewhat inebriated fan who was escorted out of the venue by security, the audience stood still throughout the set, some lost in nostalgia, others bored by Moore’s acoustic strumming or his melodramatic poems. But his rapport with the audience was definitely amusing. He ironically dedicated “Friend” off of Trees Outside the Academyto a couple in the crowd, saying, “You’re kind of breaking my heart right now.” Moore finished his set with “Circulation” off of Demolished Thoughts, relinquishing the stage to Kurt Vile to finish off the night.

Thurston Moore was originally scheduled to close the sold out show, but in a last minute switcheroo, Kurt Vile and the Violators performed as the headlining band. Kurt Vile, the Philadelphia born singer/songwriter, has been compared to Bruce Springsteen, Bob Seger, and Tom Petty, but his I-Don’t-Give-A-Shit attitude towards critics has kept him an underground sensation for the past couple years. Breaking through to main stream with his album Smoke Ring for My Halo, Vile compiled a band, The Violators, consisting of Mike Zanghi on drums, Adam Granduciel and Jesse Trbovich, both on guitar, and is finally getting the attention he deserves. 

Vile is notorious for his droned out performances, the distorted array of electric guitars that wash over the vocals when sang live, and his shy demeanor hiding behind a sea of hair. He is also notorious for doing sound checks minutes before performing, as was the case here. Prior to starting their set, the band tuned their instruments while Vile shouted “more vocals” into his microphone to an agreeing crowd. His voice was incomprehensible in the first song, but by the second song, “On Tour,” off Smoke Ring for My Halo,everything came together with palpable force, making the lyrics incredibly appropriate: “I wanna sing at the top of my lungs…’cause that’s just me bein’ me, bein’ free.”

Unlike Moore, Vile rarely spoke to the audience. He stood on his tiptoes in Converse sneakers wearing a t-shirt and jeans, disguised by a curtain of hair, and sang through his soul. Alternating between an acoustic and electric guitar, Vile played most of the songs off of Smoke Ring for My Halo, and the song that supposedly got him on the map, “Freeway,” off of his breakthrough album, Constant Hitmaker.

Kurt Vile and the Violators are reminiscent of a 90’s rock band, much like Sonic Youth, mixed with the stoner bands dominating the dorm rooms of universities and the Leonard Cohen-esque songwriters who write for themselves and not an audience. Their music is all at once soft and touching but also powerful and invigorating. The audience embraced all of these qualities as they swayed to every guitar arpeggio and vocal drift, singing along to songs they knew.

To see Vile perform live is a much different experience than listening to him on a record. His sound is inventive, even impromptu at times, with alternating crescendos and diminuendos, and the occasional dropped lyric. Only during “In My Time,” with its unsteady tambourine and wandering vocals, did the audience appear indifferent.

The band returned to the stage after their encore and performed “Society Is My Friend,” a perfect way to end the night. 

Kurt Vile and the Violators and Thurston Moore will finish their combined tour in San Diego, California on July 30, and then part ways for their individual tours.