Review: Kurt Vile, Birds of Maya, Coconuts, Still Life Still at Mercury Lounge

I stepped into the Mercury Lounge with the taste of smoked salmon and cream cheese lingering in my mouth. Aside from the door woman and the bartenders, I was the first to arrive. It felt like the Twilight Zone and I was Henry Bemis. What Murakami book should I read first? Venturing into the backroom, members from Still Life Still were lounging with drinks and chatting amongst themselves. In a room of eight people, I was the only one not holding a frosty cup of ale in my hand. If there was a kids table, I would have taken a seat.

When STS meandered on stage, a couple of listeners showed up, but they stood as far away as possible. It was as if a chasm had opened up between them and the stage. I felt bad that they were welcomed with such little fanfare, but they played on as if it were MSG. Sporting a DD/MM/YYYY shirt, the lead singer waggled his head in time with the drummer’s, their hair swinging side to side like windshield wipers in a rainstorm. Their new record off of Arts & Crafts, Girls Come Too, was produced by the Scene’s Martin Davis Kinack and Kevin Drew, so you can probably picture the dreamy sounds and danceable beats that followed.

A three piece called Coconuts were next. They were comprised of two gangly long-haired fellows in flannel, and a drummer I could have replaced. No joke. They played noise rock, that started off with dissonant droning and led to crashing, formless melodies. The “girlfriend” in the room was easily spotted, ’cause she was the only one rocking her head with fervor. There were times when three songs melded into one, connected by tattered strings of distortion that you could hear ripping in the background. Did they do this because there wasn’t any time for applause, or were they not sure any would come? Next up were Birds Of Maya, who could also be classified as noise rockers, but they were much more enjoyable. The guitarist’s hands seemed to be stitched to his whammy, as if he were trying to build up his star power meter. The bassist had his back to the audience, except for the few times he turned around to belt out some inaudible lyrics. It was comical that, even when he turned around, hair was strewn about his face masking his identity. Most of their songs had riffs that reminded me of “Black Betty,” and It was hard to tell if they had any actual compositions or if they were just jamming out in front of the crowd.

Then came Philly’s hit maker, Kurt Vile. The body count ballooned to sizable proportions, and I witnessed a girl swoon as Kurt grazed by. The two bands before strummed loudly and used their amps as crutches, but they could only draw polite applause. KV played his first two songs by himself on acoustic guitar, and this made boys sing along with closed eyes while girls whipped their hair around like they were auditioning for a Whitesnake video. One of these songs was a yet-to-be-released track titled “Peeping Tomboy,” and even when Kurt messed up the chords a bit it didn’t matter. Lyrics like, “I don’t wanna change/ But I don’t wanna stay the same” were sung so earnestly that it kept the crowd entranced. It would not surprise me if Kurt worked as a snake charmer for the ol’ day job.

Kurt was later joined by The Violaters, which includes J Turbo, who switched it up from bass to sax-a-ma-phone to harmonica and back. He wielded a sax on fan favorite “Freak Train,” which has Kurt screaming like he’s chasing after a thief. They then played half of Kurt’s upcoming Matador release, Childish Prodigy, and the performance displayed the group’s range fabulously. From lo-fi clatter to home-spun Americana, they could do no wrong on this night.

Now I finally know what all the fuss is about.

Tour Dates
Oct 9   Eclectic House – Middletown, CT
Oct 10  Oberlin College (Dionysus Disco) – Oberlin, OH
Oct 11  Al’s Bar – Lexington, KY
Oct 12  Video Saloon – Bloomington, IN
Oct 13  Empty Bottle – Chicago, IL
Oct 14  7th Street Entry – Minneapolis, MN
Oct 16  The Palace – Missoula, MT
Oct 17  High Dive – Seattle, WA
Oct 18  Holocene – Portland, OR
Oct 20  Jumbalaya – Arcata, CA
Oct 21  Hemlock Tavern – San Francisco, CA
Oct 22  Crepe Place – Santa Cruz, CA
Oct 23  Spaceland – Los Angeles, CA

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– Phillip Nguyen


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