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Live Review and Photos: Thurston Moore and Kurt Vile, July 29, 2011, Troubadour – West Hollywood, CA

Photos by Philip Cosores

What’s more important to people going to a gig: current blog buzz or legendary status? The answers will probably end up being pretty divided. By billing the current Thurston Moore and Kurt Vile tour as a co-headline tour, the promoters manage to avoid having to answer that question; both artists are given an equal amount of time on stage, and over the two nights they played at the Troubadour they switched places – Moore opening on the first night and the Violators coming on first on the night I attended.

Kurt Vile’s Smoke Ring For My Halo, released earlier this year on Matador, is a fairly big change in sound from his previous albums, and showcased his songwriting abilities more than ever. Needless to say, he’s pretty good at it. His live performance is muted, barely moving from his spot in front of the microphone, but the passion is there in the way he emotionally discharges his vocals and skilfully plucks his guitar strings. He’s backed up by a band who go by the name The Violators, something of a joke name, but these musicians are certainly not messing around; each one is extremely adept at their instrument and play a big part in making Kurt Vile’s live show as impressive as it is.

Louder numbers from Vile’s most recent album, were turned into atmospheric rockers by the excellent guitar work of Adam Granduciel and Jesse Turbo, with Vile often remaining on acoustic, providing the tender core of the songs. When playing older songs from Childish Prodigy, all three would take the electric guitar route and produced a stingingly great noise, backed up by Mike Zeng who used the maraca that he’d been shaking on a previous, more delicate number, to now pound his floor tom.

The most telling moments of the night were when Vile was left to play solo numbers; in the middle of the set and with the concluding “Peeping Tomboy.” This gave an opportunity to see Vile’s craft in its barest form; and it would be impossible to say you were unimpressed by Vile’s finger picking abilities and lyricism. Although the Violators are a key part of and Kurt Vile performance, these moments of Vile on his own show that it is his vision and talent that drives the whole thing.

Many people would balk at the idea of Thurston Moore touring the country and playing whole sets without picking up an electric guitar throughout. But, Thurston is past the half-century now, surely he’s allowed to take a bit of a break from the screaming feedback and chasmic roaring guitars of a Sonic Youth show if he wants? Besides, his newest album Demolished Thoughts, is a beautiful demonstration of his softer side.

Thurston, backed by his unnamed band that includes a harpist and a violinist, played mostly from Demolished Thoughts, but he was also unafraid to reach back to 2007’s Trees Outside The Academy, playing “Fri/End,” and, even more surprisingly, far back to play the title track of 1995’s Psychic Hearts. A few songs in, once the soft tide of the music had washed over the audience it was easy to become entranced by the songs, which can all sound quite similar, but in this state of near-bliss it didn’t really matter. The darker songs, such as “Blood Never Lies” and “Circulation,” stuck out as highlights, with Moore’s soft crooning turning from soothing to eerily intriguing.

Those afraid that this setup doesn’t give Moore his chance an opportunity to showcase his avant-garde streak needn’t worry. A trio of poems scattered throughout the set and a couple of occasions when all members – harpist Mary Lattimore and violinist Samara Lubelski included – banded together to create a wall of dissonant noise, showed that Thurston is still the same old Thurston.

Overall the night did what every co-headline tour should do; brought together two artists who have enough in common to attract a singular fanbase, while being different enough to provide two sets that were enjoyable to watch for different reasons. To say which was better is pointless, and near impossible. The crowd, which was packed through the duration of both, remained just as excited and enthralled through the entire night.

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