Kurt Vile rallies late in the set at Mr. Smalls

Written by Scott Mervis on .

VileWhoever was running sound at Mr. Smalls Monday night clearly decided that the leader of Kurt Vile and the Violators was not in fact Kurt Vile but the bass player.

Jesse Trbovich and Rob Laakso, who switch off in that role, had the upper hand early in the set, as the bottom of the mix overpowered the top.

It was not the best start in general for the Philly indie band’s long-awaited return to Pittsburgh in front of a sold-out crowd. The mix was bad and the energy sluggish through the first half-dozen songs -- including “Dust Bunnies,” “I’m An Outlaw” and “Pretty Pimpin’” from his chilled-out sixth album “b'lieve i'm goin down” -- making the door seem really appealing on a Monday night.

Although the crowd was polite, there was a sense of unease in the room, like, “Isn’t Kurt Vile supposed to come in and kick ass?”

That eventually happened, beginning with his shredding guitar solo on “Wakin’ on a Pretty Day,” waking up the room with it. By then, the mix had evened out, bringing Vile to the forefront on the grinding “KV Crimes” and through the delicate finger-picking on solo pieces “Stand Inside” and “Dead Alive.” For his handiwork, he paraded out an enviable collection of acoustics and electrics.

Vile delivers most of his offbeat lyrics (sample: “Then I proceeded to brush some stranger’s teeth/But they were my teeth, and I was weightless”) in a stoner drawl and is practically invisible on stage, with long, scraggly hair hanging over his face.

Late in the set, the Violators dipped further into 2009’s “Childish Prodigy” for the pummeling “Hunchback” (think Dino Jr. doing Sabbath) and the noisy, speeding “Freak Train,” punctuated by Vile’s whoops and hollers. The show-closer put us back on the rails for a sludgy “Downbound Train,” courtesy of the Boss.


In the end, it was all worth the trip -- and the ringing in the ears.

Join the conversation:

To report inappropriate comments, abuse and/or repeat offenders, please send an email to and include a link to the article and a copy of the comment. Your report will be reviewed in a timely manner. Thank you.