Published May 12, 2013Starting off a tad slow, the Fresh & Onlys of San Francisco were a touch on the messy side early. Clad in button-up plaid, Tim Cohen's voice came off less tuneful than on record, but the band tightened up as they went along. By the time they played a punchier version of "Love & Kindness" from their 2009 self-titled debut and "Summer of Love" from 2010's Play It Strange, they hit their jangle pop stride.
Showing humility, Cohen dedicated "Waterfall" to Kurt Vile and his backing band the Violators, whom he half-jokingly said had a lot of guitars, much better hair, and a more expensive car because they were a lot better than them. Vile snaked his way through the crowd midway through the song, finding his way on the stage to add some backing woos before disappearing back into the darkness. With a wild, dusty mane that lent him a similarity to eccentric engineer Philo from UHF, lead guitarist Wymond Miles let loose some spirited soloing here and there, particularly on the set's crescendo of "Foolish Person" from their most recent album, 2012's Long Slow Dance.
Philadelphia's Kurt Vile put together a slick set from the first note. Occasionally featuring opener Steve Gunn, who doubled up acoustic guitars with Vile for "Girl Named Alex" from his chart-storming 2013 release Wakin On A Pretty Daze, the Violators were spot on through various instrument changes in supporting Vile to bring his lo-fi classic rock aesthetic into focus. Jesse Trbovich proved particularly adept, added slide guitar to "Shame Chamber" and, later, organ and bass alongside his regular guitar duties.
Of course, Vile was the star of the show. Wearing a horizontally stripy shirt, his curly hair flowed down to his chest, obscuring his face and even the mic when he came in close to sing. From the side, he looked a bit like Cousin Itt from the Addams Family, and his vocals were just as incoherent, albeit in a lower, more monotonous range. Yet, he had confidence in his range, with nary a lilt of struggle. His mopey drawl suited the retro-Americana of his songwriting and the dreaminess of his sound, with his unassuming stage presence adding to the laid-back soundscapes. Vile did raise up to a screaming level for the set's peak, a spirited rendition of "Ghost Town" from 2011's Smoke Ring for My Halo, but then he followed that up with solo acoustic versions of "Snowflakes Are Dancing" and "Peeping Tomboy," the latter of which was received by the sold-out crowd with woos and claps. There's no doubt it was a professional set with lots of variety and fresh takes on recorded material. One couldn't ask for much more.