Kurt Vile’s performance tonight was a musical triptych made of three not altogether coherent musical landscapes.
His songs, wide-open plains in their recorded form felt like walled gardens tonight. The restrictions of touring as a traditional four-piece were obvious. The first three songs, including his magnum opus, ‘Waking on a Pretty Day’, were unconvincing. Without the reverb, the broader arrangements, and most importantly the sonic clarity, the songs often sounded pedestrian. Vile’s distinctive laconic drawl, and neat expressions of apathy were muddied and often too low in the mix. Without any knowledge of his records you would be forgiven for thinking he had forgotten his own lyrics, so incoherent was the sound.
So as the first twenty minutes came and went, a small part of me began to think that this was about to become a difficult night. Then the band took a break and Kurt played three songs alone. Unchained from his band, I remembered again what has always been his appeal. With his voice now audible, I caught the words as they slipped out, stretched and twisted; “I don’t wanna change, but I don’t wanna stay the same, I don’t wanna go, but I’m running”. Suddenly, a sense of intimacy returned, everyone disappearing from around me, and I was connecting with the music on stage. This acoustic interlude, was my highlight of the show, and as the band returned I found the same apprehension return, but this time tinged with a little optimism.
I don’t know if it was the change in mindset or an actual improvement, but this time around things started to work. The addition of programmed beats in some of the songs did seem a little out of place, and the heavier shoegaze moments felt a little OTT in the context of tonight’s set. Nevertheless, the show had picked up a tempo and Kurt seemed to find his voice a bit.
As the band wrapped up proceedings with a brilliant version of ‘Runner Ups’, replete with it’s brilliant, “my best friend’s gone, but I’ve got…runner ups” refrain, I felt that despite my early misgivings, this performance had more moments when I felt absorbed rather than alienated. Whilst there is a lot of room for improvement, most importantly involving a fleshing out of the sound, this show will have satisfied all but the most cynical of Kurt Vile fans.