Wednesday, January 13
Kurt Vile is an American singer/songwriter who has channelled a deadpan Lou Reed-like vocal delivery and the deft, dextrous guitar skills of John Fahey across a series of albums, appealing to people from all walks of life.
For this solo show the early focus is the new album, b’lieve im goin’ down… and that album’s opening track and first single, Pretty Pimpin’ had Vile’s acoustic guitar finding the spaces within a rigid drum-machine backing rhythm. It had heads nodding and people singing along, it’s almost a post-modern blues, but it’s also a genuine pop hit. Somehow, at his best, Vile can mix and match upbeat, infectious pop hooks with these gloomy, weary, downtrodden homilies. Hear him croon, “Society is my friend” in a strained bleat and it’s sold as an outsider’s tale, told directly from the bedsit.
And though Vile was slow to warm, appearing almost shy in his banter, he was enthusiastic towards an audience that talked too much over intros and between songs, seeming mostly interested in the handful of songs they might have heard from the new album, particularly his radio hit
When Vile dipped back to 2011’s Smoke Ring For My Halo (Jesus Fever, Society) it not only pleased those already in the know but slowly, surely hooked in the newbies – but there was something missing: the band.
Auckland received the full show – Vile and backing band. The rest of the New Zealand dates are solo appearances. And though Vile easily moved between electric and acoustic guitars, and he’s not only a gifted musician it was also a perfect sound-mix, his voice and playing framed just right, these solo treatments highlighted just how similar the songs are. Having seen him previously with the band – a generous solo set in the middle – it was hard not to feel cheated slightly, let down as a result. And the packed bar proved a blessing and a curse. Nice to head out and see lots of people at a venue in Wellington for once. But far too much talking for a show that might have been better suited to a sit-down venue.
This review first appeared in The Dominion Post and online at Stuff here