You know what’s cool every once in a while? When an opener blows the main act out of the water. Although it can be a let-down when the end of the concert comes and you realize your favorite part was over hours ago, it’s always a pleasant surprise to happen upon a small band that you like in a big way. This was exactly my experience at the August 10th Kurt Vile concert at the Rock and Roll Hotel.
First, to set the scene: Rock and Roll Hotel (R&R Hotel as we hipster Washingtonians like to call it) is THE place to be for alternative music junkies. Not only is it in an out of the way (read: not QUITE completely gentrified) section of DC, it also offers concert-goers tantalizing proximity to musicians’ changing rooms that are located adjacent to the upstairs bar and are furnished in an eclectic and fascinating Victorian-parlor-inspired way. Love-struck and thirsty fans are given every excuse to linger near their idolized
stars, hoping for a glimpse of the performers and, if their luck is good, a run-in with one or more band members as they make their way to the downstairs stage. Besides an intimate concert experience in a cool locale, R&R also provides patrons with a full menu of tall-boy beer varieties and legendary “first date fries” served with the most delicious garlic mayo you’ll ever have the pleasure of m(eat)ing.
But I digress.
Since this concert turned the usual musical experience (mediocre opener, breath-taking headliner) upside down, I’ve decided to do the same with this review: I’ll start with Vile (who performed last) and work my way backwards to the highlight of the show. Here goes:
Not surprisingly, I’d bought tickets to this concert to see headliner Kurt Vile. Vile, a talented Pennsylvania-based performer, has a cool sound that falls somewhere between Tom Petty and Bob Dylan. Although I don’t personally see much similarity between him and Animal Collective (one of my favorite bands), the two have collaborated, which makes me like him all the more. Vile put on a good show (I especially liked his rendition of My Baby’s Arms and the Blackberry song) and he proved himself an adorable on-stage personality. Nothing but smiles and thank yous and pleasant nodding that made his long hair swing back and forth in a completely endearing fashion. Endearing, mind you, not mind-blowing.
Woods, who performed before Vile, were quite good as well. The guitarist, Jeremy Earl, founded the Woodsist label that produces both Vile and Woods (and, as it turns out, White Fence). It was obvious the bands shared both influence and members with Vile. While Vile was a bit more traditional (his songs were relatively short with narrative vocals), Woods performed longer pieces, many of which had no vocals. Their sound was a bit too techno for my tastes, but overall I liked their sound a lot.
Saving the best for last (though they came first), the second opener, White Fence proved the high point of the evening (I missed True Widow, who played first). Not only was White Fence perfectly punctual, they also represented a refreshing mix of white-boy-hipster-look and soulful-techno-blues-sound. I don’t think a single band member topped the scale at more than 110 pounds, but the old-school vibe they produced was surprisingly and pleasantly weighty. Before getting to the music (I promise, I’m getting there) I’d also like to note their on-stage banter was just the right mix of friendly and engaging while not distracting. They were truly humble and charming.
OK, the music: imagine Beach Boys in Bollywood. Or maybe the Beatles collaborating with the Byrds? Maybe it’s best if you just take a listen yourself. I particularly enjoyed Mr. Adams and Destroy Everything.
Overall, the show was well worth the trek out to H Street in the District’s notorious northeast quadrant. It was one of those nights when you feel like you ate dessert before dinner – not something you’d want every day, but every once in a while – just the thing to make your week memorable.