We know D.C. Get our free newsletter to stay in the know.
During the lull right before a show, straight off the highway and with time to kill in a new town, there are very few things a tired, traveling musician can muster up the energy for. Some rushed tourism, maybe, or a bite to eat.
And record stores. On previous tours, Philadelphia indie-rock troubadour Kurt Vile spent so much of his down time browsing shops that he decided to do a week-long tour of in-store acoustic sets. He’s at Red Onion Books and Records tonight at 6 p.m..
“I’m definitely a record-head,” Vile says. “So that’s why I like doing in-store shows while on tour.”
(Vile’s mini-tour reminds me of Robert Fripp‘s “Exposure Non-Tour,” when the guitarist performed in to-go pizza places and barber shops using his portable Frippertronics system.).
The trek should be a good reminder to record-store clerks to stock up on Vile’s new album, Smoke Ring for My Halo. And, undoubtedly, Vile will be doing some crate-digging himself. “I lust for things that are hard to find, like Neil Young’s On the Beach,” Vile says. “But I crave for things that are easy to find…I’m obsessed with the Stones.”
Any good vinyl discoveries lately, Mr. Vile? “Bert Jansch, Birthday Blues.”
No kidding: Vile has a lot in common with the Jansch, a founding member of the ’60s folk-rock band Pentangle. The dusty sounds of renowned fingerstyle guitarists Jack Rose and John Fahey also turn up on Smoking Ring for My Halo.
As Vile finger-picks on his fretboard on the opening song, “Baby’s Arms,” you can hear the inescapable yet humble sliding of fingers upon metallic strings, the twanging higher strings, and the interchange of complementary bass and treble notes. “Finger-picking is addicting. I’ve been playing this way for 10 years,” says Vile, who’s been creating music since his teenage years. He wanted to own a guitar, but ended up with a banjo instead. “My dad was a blue-grass aficionado.”
Learning to finger-pick and sing simultaneously took a bit of practice, but became natural over time. “Basically, you have to start with the thumb, doing bass, and get comfortable with that, go back and forth with your thumb, add a finger, and then another one,” Vile explains. “I just couldn’t stop with it though.”