Kurt Vile and the Violators served a tall order on Saturday night at Terminal 5 in New York City as they lubricated the looming anticipation of a crowd jittering for Dinosaur Jr.‘s 25th anniversary all-star reunion show. The Philadelphia rockers bared down before a giant wall of Marshall amps—three stacks per guitarist—and transfixed the crowd with their fuzzy, low-fi sound dumping while letting some cleaner melodies dance along with the tunes. Kurt Vile’s steady voice, which can sound like Lou Reed on the lower pitches, held the rhythm on songs with no bass.
The Violators had little rust to kick off for a band that hasn’t performed much since the summer. They played with the flawless command of a group fully incubating on a recording mission to master their current sound into something deeper. “We’re just evolving and incorporating more elements into our new material,” says guitarist Jesse Trbovich, proudly clad in a Philadelphia 76ers t-shirt.
One of those elements is the mixing of electronic background tracks and sound effects. “Ghost Town”, from the band’s last studio album on Matador Records, Smoke Ring for My Halo, fluttered in with some buzzy didgeridoo-ish twangs that framed the mellow song into something a little more playful. “We’re exploring more use of electronics,” says Trbovich, “but we’ve always done that, even since “Freeway”,” a song from their early album on Gulcher Records, Constant Hitmaker.
This is not the kind of band with a lot of dynamic movement all over the stage, but more of a Nirvana-like swaying behind a heavy curtain of hair. The music, however, is fully charged, as was Vile backstage while waiting to join Dinosaur Jr. and their heavy phaser pedal for “Alone”. His appearance with the iconic alternative pioneers was preceded by Frank Black of the Pixies and followed by Johnny Marr of the Smiths, Kevin Drew from Broken Social Scene, Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth and several others.
The show was just as much a tribute to a whole generation of alternative rock as it was to Dinosaur Jr. With so many surprise appearances, there was nothing even close to a lull and every song felt just as fresh as the first. Even seeing your favorite band can sometimes get monotonous over the course of a three hour set. But when each song features a legendary guest you may not have seen since the ‘90s, there’s no choice but to surrender your full attention and sacrifice your ear drums to the wave of nostalgic vibrations swelling up to the third floor balcony.