10th November | Anson Rooms
Photos: Michael Brumby
Watching, listening to, and reading about Kurt Vile, one of the more unassuming personalities in alternative music today, you get the impression of him being a fan who has joined the tradition that he so admires. A proficient guitarist and songwriter, but still more everyman than legendary bluesman, Vile’s down-to-earth persona is a strong part of his charm.
The release of another critically-acclaimed album, Bottle It In, in October, has maintained the sense that Vile has struck on a rich vein of creativity in recent years. The prospect of seeing an artist who feels like they are in their prime always comes with a sense of significance. Not quite an ‘I was there’ moment, but certainly within that ball park.
With excited conversation echoing around the school-gym-like Anson Rooms, the atmosphere tonight resembles the excitement of an end-of-term assembly. The noise level only increases following (and during) an enjoyable support set from acclaimed folk musicians, Meg Baird and Mary Lattimore, whose collaborative album Ghost Forests is to be released the following day.
Eventually, the crowd directs its noise toward the stage as the man everyone has been waiting for enters the stage and grabs a guitar. Vile, a mass of hair armed with a Fender Jaguar, then takes a moment to noodle before counting into album opener ‘Loading Zones’.
Early on, the show takes a little time to warm up – the playing is tight but the textures still feel like they’re lacking some impetus. Saying this, the thousand-or-so-strong crowd are particularly vocal in their appreciation of the set, cheering the end of each song like it could be the set closer. The positive response to new album tracks such as ‘Loading Zones’ and ‘Bassackwards’ shows that new material has already been taken up by fans.
Throughout, there is a playfulness to Kurt’s interactions with the audience which for much of the set are limited to whoops down the mic, always inflected with his distinctive drawl. He knows this is his room and only needs to give few words to receive adoration in response.
Given that many of his songs develop off repetitive mid-tempo grooves, there is a danger of the set staying one-paced, failing to lift off. However Vile has a deceptively varied sonic palette, the banjo on ‘Outlaw’ offering a welcome change early in the set. Yet most exhilarating are the moments when he bares his teeth – cranked fuzz and a throat-shredding scream punching out and showing a snarl beneath the laid back demeanour.
This is a reminder that the real centrepiece of the show is Kurt’s guitar playing; his powerful Jag tone elevates above everything else in the mix, never failing to take the set to another level. Not interested in chauvinistic displays of virtuosity nor an aimless noodler, Vile’s solos develop their own narrative via patient melodies and a pleasing amount of wah abuse.
The set closes with a perfectly judged cover of Springsteen’s ‘Downbeat Train’. Like the banjo, it has a popular symbolism that connects with ideas of the ordinary American, the everyman. It’s this which Vile taps into, an unassuming talent, capable of elevating the everyday.
See the video for ‘Loading Zones’ here: