In a time when drops are celebrated over lyrics, pop is high art, and Migos is compared to the Beatles, rock 'n' roll sits perched on the edge of its death bed complaining of achy bones. It often seems the great guitar poets of bygone days spent their lives partying instead of procreating, especially in Miami, where most live musical entertainment plugs into Serato.
That's what made last night's arresting performance feel so rare. In the cool winter breeze of North Beach, Kurt Vile & the Violators proved the old guard begat at least one bastard son. The Philadelphia urban bard came armed with a slew of guitars, a few effects pedals, and book of piercing phrases that could make even a bpm-driven party girl swoon.
It was an early show. Doors opened at 7 p.m., and opener Luke Roberts wrapped up 45 minutes later. The proceedings weren't running on Miami time either, and by 8:15 p.m. promptly, the main attraction had hit the stage. Maybe he was inspired by the tropical surroundings to begin the set with “Walkin' on a Pretty Day.” He and his four-piece's crystal-blue sound pierced the night. It wafted through the open air and romanced passersby, their bellies full of Denny's and tequila shots on their way to some other fast-paced somewhere.
As his key player turned to his vintage Farfisa Compact, they worked into “I'm an Outlaw,” effectively turning Miami's balmy scene into some down-and-out desert dive. Vile's voice has a strange, certain twang. You could see him giving it all up one day to hang with the cacti and ox skulls — playing brilliant guitar for lizards outside a sun-stained RV that hasn't moved in years. On this night, he performed for about 300 of Miami's dirty-haired hipsters, ranging in age from the late 20s to the early 30s, 40s, and even 50s. A couple of families brought children and babies, because it's never too early to teach your kids how to rock.
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Vile doesn't talk too much between songs, but when he did, it was to compliment his beautiful audience or give “insight” into his compositions. “This next one is called 'Waking Up Next to Jesse on the Bus,'” he said. “It's about waking up next to Jesse on the bus.” The guitar player to his left took a slight bow. It's hard to call this Jesse just a guitar player, because everyone in the band jumped around from instrument to instrument. There were banjos, keys, bass guitars, drums, and even saxophones in play before the end of it.
Vile broke tradition, going wild on effects peddles with his acoustic guitar, his long curly hair hanging over his face as if he were working a metal axe. Yet for all of his fancy playing, it was his words that set the night on fire. He has a straightforward way of speaking, sounds kind of like Lou Reed or Iggy Pop trying his hand at the folk tradition, filtering his music through post-Sonic Youth amps. For the most part, the vibes were chill. He even performed a couple of songs in the middle by his lonesome, though he gave the crowd a few good rips near the end.
It was a short set, running a bit more than an hour. “Pretty Pimpin” got a lot of woos and signaled the end was nigh. He returned for a two-song encore, “Wild Imagination” and “Baby's Arms,” and then it was a big hearty thank-you, you're beautiful, see ya out there. It was weird to be unleashed from a show before 10 p.m., and promoter Poplife set up an afterparty at the Anderson back on the mainland. But the crowd sat around in that hallowed air to finish some beers and let the feeling radiate, at least for a bit longer. It's only so often you get to say you saw rock 'n' roll climb out of its hospital gown and into its dirty jeans to do the sexy shoegaze shuffle one more time.