Kurt Vile & The Violators, RVG @ The Gov, Adelaide 27/4/2019

Last in Australia a couple of years ago performing solo and having recorded the Lotta Sea Life album with Courtney Barnett who joined him onstage in Melbourne recently, he is joined on this tour by the Violators and supported by the upcoming RVG.

RVG are the Romy Vager Band who tonight play a set consisting of songs from debut album A Quality of Mercy and some newer material. It would be remiss of me to ignore or not address the issue of Romy Vager being a transgender woman even though it is of little relevance except that her ferocious gruff vocals are a throwback to a time before and anyone upon first hearing RVG are going to do a considering double take. There, now that that is out of the way, on to the content of the set.

During the first song and for much of their accomplished set, Romy’s vocals come across like a howling Ian McCulloch from 80s post punk favs Echo & the Bunnymen with the pacing of Television’s Tom Verlaine. A couple of songs in she briefly acknowledges returning to Adelaide after an absence, prior to the amped-up reverb drenched Go-Betweens-styled Vincent Van Gogh. I note as an aside that coincidentally both Angus Belle on bass and Reuban Bloxham on guitar are left-handed (not to exclude mentioning drummer Marc Nolte, I just can’t make any such observatory claims as to his left-handedness or ambidexterity).

The pace slows for I Used To Love You, a rock’n’roll country ballad that could easily be a future single. The Velvet Underground waltz of That’s All (opening lyric: “I’m not a clown // But I wish I could be”) includes the touching closing lyrical refrain: “I’ve been trying not to ruin your day // I’ve been trying not to get in your way”. Romy asks if there is time for another song and there is a local reference in the introduction to Feral Beach in her reveal that it is about Christies Beach. Possibly her parents are in the audience tonight so I am hoping that the lyrics are not entirely autobiographical. By the end of their time on stage, Romy has successfully won over this Adelaide audience, a very different response to a previous visit upon during which she has reported clearing the room where she was playing. Later while thanking them Kurt Vile mentions that tonight’s set is their best that he has seen on the tour so far.

When Kurt Vile makes his appearance the first thing he says is, “Shhh. Check… I don’t mean to shush you” and this along with the types of grunts usually used to sound check microphones is close to the limit of his vocal interaction with the audience between songs for most of the set that follows. He and the Violators start with preamble musical noodle before diving into the immediacy of Loading Zones, the lead song from latest album Bottle It In. There’s no lyrical mystery here, the subject matter is all in the title. This early on, the Violators’ chant of “I park for free!” hasn’t become the anthemic audience shout out that it could become. Although starting with a song from the latest album, the set doesn’t rely too heavily on Bottle It In with only less than half of the songs represented here interspersed among songs from Kurt’s back catalogue.

Following the gospel blues of Jesus Fever, there is an omnipresent echoing percussion over the thematically and musically entwined extended Bassackwards. Kurt switches to banjo for the Appalachian synth-backed I’m An Outlaw. The booming reverbed drums of Check Baby are successfully transferred into the live setting by Kyle Spence, and the lyric becomes self-referential when Kurt has to adjust his guitar strings and tuning within the performance of the song.

Following the mumbled lyrical narrative of Girl Called Alex, in his introduction to Cold Was The Wind, Kurt states, “We’re going to take you back to America… via a… Polynesian village”. The curtains at the back of the stage are lit red and it feels like the Violators are performing in Twin Peaks. The song comes to a close with Kurt slowly repeating, “Cold… yeah… wind… yeah… blows”. The Violators leave the stage for Kurt’s mid set solo slot and he asks, “How’s life?”. During this intimate acoustic performance of Peeping Tomboy he is visibly annoyed, glaring at a pocket of people quite audibly talking and laughing down front to the left but this is either ignored or goes unnoticed by the irritants.

The Violators return and the earliest song played tonight, Heart Attack segues into the hyperactive on speed Yeah Bones. This song with Rob Laakso’s guitar soloing is almost anathema to the rest of the set’s slowed mellow songs and Kurt’s general laissez-faire demeanour and approach. Unfortunately after introducing KV Crimes the song has a couple of false starts and except for the opening riff, it is abandoned altogether, the Violators proceeding with their last song before the encore, Wild Imagination. Kurt again glares toward the same unruly patch of individuals in the audience while singing a coincidental lyric, “I’m looking at you”.

Upon returning for the encore, Kurt asks if there are any late night clubs or raves, dismisses a drunken call of “Neil Young” and then he and the Violators commence their final three songs with the slacker minimalism and shimmering fingerpicked meandering of Mutinies. This is followed by the “hit single” Pretty Pimpin’ and bassist Jesse Trbovich leaves the stage for the final song of the set Baby’s Arms to be performed as a three-piece. Kurt reiterates his thanks to RVG and the satisfied audience, says goodbye and “See you at the raves”. On a Saturday, a week on from Easter this long haired beardless messiah of the slacker generation has preached to the already converted and although RVG’s set may have been eclipsed by that of Kurt Vile and the Violators, for some tonight it is RVG that may have been a revelation.

Live Review by Jason Leigh