Kurt Vile & The Violators and Mary Lattimore & Meg Baird at Kantine, Cologne, Germany, Nov ’18

Avid Kurt Vile fan that I am, I have been looking forward to see Kurt Vile & The Violators performing live again in my vicinity for the past six months now. The anticipation was made all the more glorious when the support act was announced: Mary Lattimore & Meg Baird. A veritable feast so to speak and I will of course let you know how this festive occasion turned out, so join me for a review and more blathering on Kurt Vile & The Violators and Mary Lattimore & Meg Baird at Kantine, Cologne, Germany, Nov ’18.

It makes my blood boil a bit even though it should be Kurt Vile himself who is the judge on this, but this sticking the “slacker” label on him and “slacker music” on his work, is not quite right. Alright, there’s the guitar music with some of the obvious influences such as Pavement and the appearance of a drawling, goofy, long-haired, slackerly dressed person on stage…fair enough. But there is so much more to Kurt Vile and his music. Steve Gunn, former member of The Violators, and guitarist and songwriter par excellence, should know and in an interview he claimed that Kurt Vile just has it, that ability to write brilliant songs with ease. I do not know how easy it really is for Kurt Vile and his limited vocal range is both just that – limited and one of his trademarks. But on the other hand, if you ever took a closer listen and look at Kurt Vile, you will find a perceptive, witty and touching songwriter, an excellent musician and a down-to-earth, humble person, way beyond the lazy “slacker” label. Also he is an incredibly diligent musician which this year brought him to the brink of mental meltdown due to stress. Not only has he released an album full of the sweetest songs and toured with – it seems – perfect soulmate Courtney Barnett from last autumn on, he has been on the road himself for three years and managed to write and record songs for his new album “Bottle It in”. By no means is he bottling it in on this album, he is lyrically at his sharpest yet and it just seems to flow from his inner self unfettered. Musically he (with thankfully the support of his label Matador) is not restricted to churn out radio-friendly three-minute pop songs (not that there would be anything wrong with that) – the thirteen songs on “Bottle It In” are his lushest in instrumentation yet and the haziness of his four albums before “B’lieve I’m Going Down” has returned, but mostly in a much tighter way. Three of the songs hit the ten minute mark and over. A brave move and a self-confident one and certainly one that his fans mostly cherish. Much to discover then from the new album on this year’s tour.

Kurt Vile & The Violators and Mary Lattimore & Meg Baird at Kantine, Cologne, Germany, Nov '18

The venue he played that night, November 2nd, Kantine, Cologne, Germany, well, it is a biggish one and as much as I of course am happy for Kurt Vile to go on to bigger things, I miss the intimacy of earlier performances. A big drawback to the venue is having two bars in there and the toilet facilities behind the stage, meaning there is constant squeezing through and movement in the crowd. Also the sound in front of the stage was pretty bad in my opinion, so I moved to the middle where it was fine and then to the back where much of the vibe got lost in people chattering.

Kurt Vile & The Violators and Mary Lattimore & Meg Baird at Kantine, Cologne, Germany, Nov '18

That constant drone of talking and only the first five rows really being captivated also annoyed me during the faultlessly beautiful and magical performance of music scene stalwart Meg Baird (she of Espers, Heron Oblivion, The Baird Sisters with her sister Laura and as a solo artist playing with the legends of fingerpicking guitar style music) and harpist to the stars Mary Lattimore. Mary Lattimore has had a tremendously busy year too, not only contributing her evocative and experimental and just so right harp flourish to a host of albums, but releasing her solo album “Hundreds Of Days” (Ghostly International) which is sheer bliss and has personally helped me to relax, reflect and restart on many occasions since summer but then she went and finally did an album with long-time collaborator Meg Baird, the breathtakingly delicate and haunting and therefore aptly named “Ghost Forests” (Three Lobed Recordings).

Kurt Vile & The Violators and Mary Lattimore & Meg Baird at Kantine, Cologne, Germany, Nov '18

We got treated to a fine set of songs of this album by Meg on acoustic and electric guitar and crystal-clear vocals and Mary on her enormous Lyon and Healy harp, “Harpie”, her looping gadget and keyboard. I am getting ready for any comments from behind as to what the hell this performance has to do with the guitar rock Kurt Vile is presenting later. Indeed Mary has been working with Kurt Vile for a long-time and the additions of her harp to the songs on “Bottle It In” range for many among the finest details of the album. But – at least the front bit of the audience – are captivated. My highpoint of Mary’s and Meg’s set was the unexpected delivery of Emmylou Harris’ “Wrecking Ball” which is absolutely chilling. Mary Lattimore and Meg Baird were present at the merch table for a long time during Kurt Vile’s set and afterwards and were very kind to chat to everyone and thanked everyone so nicely for their interest. Och, they’re just awesome.

Kurt Vile & The Violators and Mary Lattimore & Meg Baird at Kantine, Cologne, Germany, Nov '18

But this meant also, that on this occasion there was no rolling the harp back on stage and Mary joining in on some of Kurt Vile’s songs. A pity, that.

Kurt Vile & The Violators and Mary Lattimore & Meg Baird at Kantine, Cologne, Germany, Nov '18

Kurt Vile & The Violators entered the stage to a very warm welcome which they ever so humbly and sweetly accepted and went straight into the marvellously and ice-breaking “Loading Zones” of the new album. (If only the sound had been better…) Expert musicianship delivered all the way through the shortish set by Kurt Vile, Jesse Trbovich (bass, guitar, saxophone), Rob Laakso (guitar, bass) and Kyle Spence (drums), managing  to unify the kids, the youngsters and the older generation in their appreciation. A large proportion of the new album was played, interspersed with some classics like “KV Crimes” and “A Girl Called Alex” from earlier albums. I was missing a couple of my personal favourites that might have pumped the lagging middle part of the concert a bit such as “Wheelhouse” but then again that might have to do with the fact that I was in the back at that time and the vibes did not catch on so much there. Then again, you can’t please everyone with a back catalogue like that. Many, many people in the audience had never heard Kurt Vile before his single “Loading Zones” off the new album but I always feel happy that other music lovers find older styles like folk and americana or blues to discover via a totally different angle. Happened to me too and Kurt Vile played a great part in that.

Kurt Vile & The Violators and Mary Lattimore & Meg Baird at Kantine, Cologne, Germany, Nov '18

Kurt Vile & The Violators and Mary Lattimore & Meg Baird at Kantine, Cologne, Germany, Nov '18

Kurt Vile & The Violators and Mary Lattimore & Meg Baird at Kantine, Cologne, Germany, Nov '18

Are there any gobsmacking going-ons on stage? No, of course not. Kurt does not even say that much in between songs, being busy with getting yet another guitar or the banjo or the acoustic ready for the next song and that is perfectly fine with me. (Kurt Vile’s guitar rack made me cry with envy almost but then again, unlike him, I would not even deserve them half as much as him).

The band left the stage rather abruptly but did return and gave the fans “Pretty Pimpin” amongst others, the song that is probably his most well-known and caused a huge applause and whoohooing.

A very sweet “I love you all” from Kurt and smiles all round from the band and they were off.

As expected a great show from Kurt Vile & The Violators and supporting Mary Lattimore and Meg Baird. If I had anything to grumble about, it was, that the venue could have been better or more suitable in creating the right vibe. (Which reminds me: It is not very convenient to be asked outside of the venue  for the photo pass en route to getting it! Also the fuss about photo passes by the venue was a bit over the top, considering that in the end there were three (sic!) photographers only on site. Yes, three songs only and no flash, got it a long time ago. Kindly, would the people with the mobile phones turn off the flash as well? And would the security man not propel himself at us a-roaring for making one more shot before the fourth song because I wanted just one photo of Kurt and the banjo? Well, I am sure the orderly was very stressed out with THREE photographers…). Enough of my bawling but the fans enjoyed Kurt Vile & The Violators and vice versa and that is the main thing! Rock on and thank you!

Kurt Vile & The Violators and Mary Lattimore & Meg Baird at Kantine, Cologne, Germany, Nov '18

Recommended: New albums by Elkhorn, Mary Lattimore and Prana Crafter

“Lionfish” by Elkhorn (Eiderdown Records)

Recommended: New albums by Elkhorn, Mary Lattimore and Prana Crafter

Fervent readers of this blog will already be familiar with Elkhorn, the duo of Drew Gardner on electric guitar and Jesse Sheppard and their beautiful release “The Black River” gelling all forms of American guitar music into something wondrously excitingly new and yet heartwarmingly familiar. They are back with a new release called “Lionfish” on Eiderdown Records, an EP that features two very long tracks, not surprisingly named “Lion” and “Fish”. By all means, read the full story of the making of the record. In short: Drew was diving, met a gorgeous lionfish, touched it, got stung, enjoyed the venom. Jesse manufactured the venom into powder with which the duo experimented as an inspiration for the record. Is it true? I honestly don’t know. I do know, that both tracks on the EP hijack you into a long journey that will not bore you, too many exciting things are at the wayside and welcome rests and getaways included.

Prana Crafter: “Enter The Stream” (Sunrise Ocean Bender / Cardinal Fuzz)

Recommended: New albums by Elkhorn, Mary Lattimore and Prana Crafter

Which brings us to the very man who recommended Elkhorn to me in the first place. He goes by the name of Will Sol or musically: Prana Crafter. In the past few years I have been enjoying Prana Crafter’s cathartic mildly psychedelic music from the heart of the Washington woods immensely and am always looking forward to new releases. But this new one is very special indeed. Prana Crafter for the first time made an album that is not just a collection of tracks but is a story in itself, a mystical, unwinding, eye-opening, totally enjoyable one called “Enter The Stream”. I swear you hear that stream and the clear waters. I picture Prana Crafter in the house (for a change, as like me, he draws a lot of energy and life from nature around him), the walls being translucent and nature and music can just float in and these inspirations flow out of him again in the shape of music…for want of a better description: -)

Just like a stream the moods and instrumentation, the whole songs flow and float and take you with Prana Crafter. Something else is new, too, Prana Crafter sings! And that is a wonderful addition to the music which you can check out here:

Mary Lattimore: “Hundreds Of Days” (Ghostly International)

Recommended: New albums by Elkhorn, Mary Lattimore and Prana Crafter

You would assume that owning a harp as an instrument makes your music pretty specific, stuck to a certain genre and yourself pretty isolated (never mind dragging that instrument about). Not so for Mary Lattimore, she has of course played with so many artists now and on her own, that most of you will be well-acquainted with the singular rejuvenating style, with her openness to other music and with the appreciation of both fellow musicians and the listeners. She dared though, so she won! A restless traveller, a lovely person to meet and a musician who crafted a new album called “Hundreds Of Days”. And just like Prana Crafter, there is something very new about Mary Lattimore’s new album: She sings! And she plays other instruments! Both goes very well with trusted and beautiful “Harpie” and Harpie’s sidekick, the loop gadget. This is an intoxicating, floating, feather-light album, warm-hearted album that already gave me days of listening delight and hopefully will be a source for your enjoyment this summer too.

Enjoy your summer with these very special musical moments!

Mary Lattimore gig review

Mary Lattimore from Philadelphia travelled our shores with Great Lake Swimmers after the release of her new album “At The Dam” (Ghostly International) that is spinning in the Offbeat household non-stop and was so perfectly prescribed by someone writing in to BBC Radio 6 that I cannot but quote it: “Preparing for a holiday, listening to “At The Dam” which was inspired by her experiences on tour. What could be more perfect?”

Mary Lattimore is one busy woman and it is not an easy feat to travel to Europe with her chosen instrument – the harp. So you were well advised to use the opportunity to see her playing live. More on Mary Lattimore here in this blog as well.

We had the chance to see her at Muziekgieterij in Maastricht and when she sat down at the her harp, loop thingie (what DO you call it?) on lap, no microphone, the audience was very curious. Now let me add a little to that: You have here a master of her rare instrument, classically trained and on top of that having played with what reads like the who is who of modern music and yet Mary is down-to-earth, very funny and very kind. It was such a pleasure meeting her again and hearing her perform as well of course.

She treated us to a couple of pieces of her repertoire, ranging from the almost classical to the way-out-there experience.

The amazing mixture of her harp playing and interspersing it quick as a flash with loops and creating a soundscape that totally draws you in, was lost on some maybe. Others were absolutely thrilled to be introduced to her. The very few people who might not have quite connected were amazed in the end with what ease Mary joined and accompanied Great Lake Swimmers for one of their last songs of the eve. Yes, she CAN!

It is wonderful how Mary Lattimore gives harp music a new lease on life and us sound experiences that lull you in, shake you, stir you to eventually console you again. Those pieces will of course develop more of a life of their own in each listener’s mind as they are instrumentals, no lyrics and sometimes titles that you might not have any idea about and certainly not have in mind what Mary did. (Thinking about “Jimmy V” here – not known to too many Europeans or, yes, Mary, I must harp (er) on this: Welsh Corgis In The Snow (can’t get over that one).

I am not too worried about the poor Corgis anymore though as Mary is a dog-lover if I ever saw one.

The end of Mary’s performance saw enthusiastic, awestruck, some bewildered and yet taken aback faces.

I cannot see the video below (aaaawww, thanks German GEMA (royalties company) but I am sure most of you can. Just to give you an impression of what the music of At The Dam is like.

Still, even though you could listen to Mary’s music at home, it is still very impressive to see her live at work. I did not film anything but there is a wee clip I found from this tour, so I’ll point you to that:

Great Lake Swimmers @Muziekgieterij & interview

In one of the past blog posts I had posted an interview that Great Lake Swimmers‘ Tony Dekker kindly gave me and also highly recommended you to go see them on tour. And here comes more: Great Lake Swimmers gig review and interview

The three-week tour through Europe with Mary Lattimore has now come to an end and I had the opportunity (thank you Phil Klygo from weewerk!) to see them play and have another short conversation.

So, it was Friday, May 6th, one of the first warm days after a very cold spring so far and the lovely people of Maastricht do what they love best: Sitting outside, having fun and watch the world go by in their beautiful old city. Yet, quite a few people made it into the outstanding venue “Muziekgieterij” (thank you, the great people at Muziekgieterij, too) and were well rewarded:

Great Lake Swimmers had invited their friends The Fire Harvest from Utrecht who came despite it being their CD release day and treated us to a great set of slow and dark and introspective songs. Check them out!

Next up was master harp player Mary Lattimore but she will of course get her own space on this blog 🙂

Great Lake Swimmers - audience perspective
Maastricht concert May 2016

Great Lake Swimmers then entered the stage and by looking at people, I’d dare say, they entered their minds and hearts. You could hear a needle drop when the band delivered their acoustic set.  Yes, we all were still in the dark venue but somehow GLS conveyed The Great Wide Open that is so important to them, their inspiration, their essential elixir.

Tony Dekker, Bret Higgins and Erik Arnesen are accomplished multi-nstrumentalists, so if you are thinking – phew, a long acoustic set, that is going to be a tad dull, no it was by no means. At the same time the acoustic nature of the show made for a very personal atmosphere. Lovely to see and hear older songs again like old acquaintances, changed but inside the same.

The quiet sound also made it possible to really pay attention to the lyrics.

Great Lake Swimmers played a very long set and encores as well during one of which they were joined by Mary Lattimore on harp. I think most people would have had the same long-lasting effect of contemplative, calming and introspective mood after the concert as me. It was beautiful, thank you.

Before I forget, Tony Dekker kindly answered a couple more questions as well, so here goes:

Offbeat: Some people were a little worried since you only perform with part of the band on this tour.

Tony Dekker: Well, we are doing acoustic shows.

Offbeat: People seem to be very impressed that the music came across really well. Are you happy enough with how the tour is going?

Tony Dekker: Yeah, it’s great. We’ve been touring for three weeks and we have one more show and it’s been going really good. We were able to bring things back and revisit some of the back catalogue, playing songs in a little bit more quiet way and present them in a more intimate show with a three-piece band.

Offbeat: Do you find that the songs have changed over time or taken on a life of their own?

Tony Dekker: I guess so. I mean when you release a song you never know where it’s going to go, who is going to listen to it, what it is going to do. The songs always have a life of their own.

Offbeat: Do you have a musical background in your family?

Tony Dekker: No, no music in the family at all. I am the black sheep. I started out in my teens. I learned to play guitar and I was in scrappy art rock bands when I was younger. Then I started taking songwriting a little more seriously. After school I studied literature. Some of that affected my writing. It got me deeper into the writing process. I have more of a background in literature and writing than in music.

Offbeat: Are you one of the few artists who would think about the lyrics first?

Tony Dekker: Yeah, absolutely. 100 per cent.

Offbeat: That is very rare.

Tony Dekker: For a lot of the music out there at the moment the lyrics seems to be kind of an afterthought. It is more about the flavour of the week. Hopefully we are making music that will last a little longer. It is not really meant to be disposable music. A lot of the music at the moment lasts maybe a month and then it’s the next thing. Ours is not music that is meant to be like that.

Offbeat: Leonard Cohen it was, I think, who said, that his poetry does not sell or is read and that through music it becomes more approachable.

Tony Dekker: Yeah, I don’t know. It is a more direct channel. I know the quote.

Offbeat: Or maybe adding an extra layer for the atmosphere of the music?

Tony Dekker: I think songwriting is very different to poetry for sure. It is a different discipline. Some poems don’t really work as songs. And some songs don’t really read well as poems. So I think it is a different thing. But on that topic, I think, music is a more direct channel as you are really communicating with someone, you are really expressing something. There is a more direct connection when you are in room with a person sharing the same space and singing and making music in the air.

Offbeat: If you take us through your albums, how do you see your own development?

Tony Dekker: I don’t know, I think, maybe the songwriting has got a little more concise. We have gotten to be better musicians. We have evolved over the years. At the same time you could play some songs and do them with voice and guitar like on the first album and do them in the same setting and the songs still hold up. We still play songs from across our catalogue. We haven’t made the same album twice. There has been a progression with each album and I think you can hear that. It brought us to a place.
This tour is kind of a special tour where it is like reviewing our older songs. A lot of people who have been fans over the years want to hear those songs. So it’s more a tour for them.

Offbeat: Thanks very much!