Nothing is better than attending a show expecting to be blown away by the headlining band and instead being awestruck by an onslaught of talent from not one but every band on the evening’s lineup. Kurt Vile, Woods and White Fence did just that at The Rock and Roll Hotel last week.
Kurt Vile cradles his guitar with his long curly hair in his face, as if he’s protecting a bunch of newborn kittens. Vile conjures the same nostalgic tenderness of Springsteen’s Nebraska on his newest release, Smoke Ring for my Halo. He starts his set with “Blackberry Song,” off of Childish Prodigy. it is an invitation to his bedroom. We all would have been sitting Indian style if the Rock and Roll Hotel’s floor weren’t soaked in beer… His second song in, “Runner Ups” offers up his backing band The Violators, with a drummer so damned tight he could be a pair of hipster’s jeans.
There is a kid in the crowd dancing a little too hard to Kurt Vile. He’s next to the Robot, with arms folded; he has hardly blinked the whole night. Many of us are transfixed. Kurt drops his pick and frets for a new one. We all want to be his best friend so that a wee bit of his veritable coolness will rub off on us. Kim Gordan claims Kurt is her “guilty pleasure because she listens to him too much.” There are certainly traces of Sonic Youth on “Overnight Religion” and “Jesus Fever.”
Highlight of the night: Kurt Vile gets frustrated with sound at RnR and says “Man, the speakers here are whaaaack,” and then some dude takes it upon himself to yell from the audience “Rock and Roll Hotel sucks, worst sound in DC!” The roadie goes, “What was that?” and dude goes, “No offense to you, man.” Real talk.
Woods offered up an unexpected set of long droning psychedelic songs mixed with a few of their poppy ones, when I honestly thought we’d get it the other way around with a lot more Echo Lake. But since they are touring to promote the new album, Sun and Shade, we instead were presented with some of the more psyche-heavy tunes off the latest LP. I am not complaining one single bit.
For instance, “Out of the Eye”was so spacey and lingering, I felt for a second that the bartender had slipped some codeine into my beer because I started nodding out with the addictive repetition of the experimental song structures (similar to the band Can) and the flickering of a John Cale-like guitar.
The beauty of Jeremy Earl’s voice, who is also the founder of Woodsist, the label on which the album is released, is quite pronounced live; it’s a little more in front of the band than it is on their recordings. Referred to as their tapes-effect technician, G. Lucas Crane used a pair of headphones to distort his backing vocals and a shit ton of effect pedals to layer each song with trippy effects.
White Fence is the third project of Tim Prestley, who conceived Darker My Love and The Strange Boys. That makes so much sense in retrospect because of the psyche-pop undertones that I couldn’t quite put my finger on while enjoying them live. I really couldn’t do much thinking at all, as the delicious (once again) John Cale swirl of guitars decorated the room.
Somehow capturing the lush yet masculine harmonies of The Who’s “I Can See for Miles” in each song, White Fence played a couple slow songs that channeled early Bob Dylan’s folky charm. Also reminiscent of early Kinks but with energy tinged with a King Tuff defiant attitude, White Fence are must-see live act that will captivate the most skeptical audience.
The Rock and Roll Hotel might not be known for its sound, but they have done quite a good job of luring me to the venue by constantly booking must-see shows, and Kurt Vile with Woods and White Fence is among one of the best shows I’ve seen there this year.