One Eyed Jacks was a packed house last night as it played host to two prominent indie-rock acts on the national scene. Headliner Kurt Vile, joined by backup band the Violators, stopped by on tour in support of latest release Wakin on a Pretty Daze, the critically-acclaimed fifth album whose success has helped him expand upon the fanbase he gained with 2011 breakthrough Smoke Ring For My Halo. He was joined last night by Brooklyn indie all-stars Beach Fossils, a band whose sound you can probably predict with startling accuracy given their name and hometown. The night began with a set from tour support VBA, and proceeded quickly as the bands (and honorable soundmen of One Eyed Jacks) worked hard to make the transitions between sets quick and painless for the audience.
Beach Fossils arrived right on time, and jumped straight into a long set in which they hammered through a greatest hits list of tracks from across their two full-lengths. The band's brand of dreamy, crystalline guitar-rock translates well to the live setting, as previously lo-fi cuts benefitted from booming drums, crisp guitars, and more audible vocals. No member of the band can possibly be a day over 23, and their youth is apparent in the group's desire to stick to their guns and offer up a variety of takes on a simple yet compelling formula. Perhaps the most exciting aspect of their set was the drummer, a young guy whose chops were surprising given the band's recordings and overall laid-back vibe. He helped the band transition chilled out delay-soaked pop songs into driven live performances, sometimes even bordering on the line of punk rock (the only thing missing was distortion). Beach Fossils' set ended with frontman Dustin Payseur alone on stage, backed by a wall of feedback and reverb, screaming into the mic a wide range of strange things, mostly "I love you," again and again. It was weird, very weird.
When Kurt Vile and the Violators finally crept out from sidestage, the immediate reaction was tinged with confusion: "Which one is he?" Because yes, basically everyone in Kurt Vile's backup band looks exactly like Kurt Vile, and it's awesome. There's one blonde dude, but if you ignore him you'll see three tall, handsome 30 somethings with long dark hair that says "I can play this guitar damn well, and also I kinda look like Jesus." And play guitar they could, as Kurt and his band of lookalikes stood solemnly and proceeded to recreate even the songwriter's folkier cuts into smooth, slow rock band jams -- without being overly jam band-y. The guitars were loud as hell, but retained a sense of control. Slow, drawling vocals filled out the room, and sounded best on the more somber numbers. The most satisfying aspect of Kurt Vile's live show is its ability to convince you (if you weren't already) that he's among the best singer-songwriters of the past decade. Whether it was the packed house, or the tour for a critically-acclaimed record, or something else unbeknownst to the audience, Mr. Vile's confidence was clear in the way he executed every aspect of the performance with cool collectedness.
One Eyed Jacks was in fine form last night. The sound was pristine (as always), and Mr. Vile seemed quietly determined to deliver something memorable. He did, and hopefully will be back sooner rather than later to do it again. New Orleans oftentimes has trouble with making its way onto big-name indie-rock acts' tour schedules, but if we keep coming out in droves like we did last night, maybe we can get that to change.