Recently described by Pitchfork as ‘the weird quiet kid in the corner’, Kurt Vile is not the type of musician to exhibit boisterous showmanship and overt self-assurance during his live performances. That’s OK, though – because that’s not what you’re going to a Kurt Vile gig for. More likely you’re there to drift along to his flawless blend of lo-fi, psych rock and folk that has shaped his six solo albums and have earned him a solid and respected name.
Vile’s work is underpinned by inimitable guitarmanship– his experiments between electric and acoustic (as well as the banjo) constitute a refined body of work on their own. The problem with Vile’s genius technical ability is that it diminishes any fluidity and pace during his live shows. During the second song in his set in Aarhus, Vile works the crowd with a flawless rendition of his latest single, ‘Pretty Pimpin’’. Yet the audiences’ growing enthusiasm is only to be quelled by a prolonged interval of guitar tuning and amp adjusting. This can be forgiven at first; the fact that Vile switches to a new guitar after each of the first five songs makes you appreciate just how sophisticated his sound is. Yet the constant breaks in the show soon become wearisome. As Vile focuses on how to adjust and perfect his sound, he loses any potential contact with the audience. Exasperated looks between Vile and his band the Violators may signal technical difficulties beyond their control, but Vile has been slated too many times for his inattentiveness to the audience during his live shows for this to be a valid excuse. By mid-set, the gig has failed to pick up any speed and, for a musician as proficient as Kurt Vile, a more cohesive live sound should be delivered faultlessly.
“I’d much rather levitate” sings Vile on his most recently released album, B’lieve I’m Going Down. The problem is that his audience is left behind him, still stuck on the ground.
Kurt Vile & The Violators. Photo by Steffen Jørgensen (photo.stffn.dk)