Imagine a dense forest at night, alone with thoughts of sadness in front of the roaring bonfire. Nobody’s coming, and there’s only sheer, unyielding solitude. This would be the ideal scenario for the words and melodies of Kurt Vile.
Hundreds of fans crammed into Toronto’s sweltering, sold-out Phoenix Concert Theatre to watch their hero jangle through his back catalog favourites and cuts from his most recent, much-ballyhooed, album Waking on a Pretty Daze. To wit – that’s exactly how any self-respecting fan of the Philadelphia singer would have it. On stage, Vile is known for being shy, quiet and whatever the opposite of engaging is, while his crowds are known for being adoringly subdued.
As the house music cut with the lights, the crowd anticipated the band’s arrival on-stage, but it was another five minutes until Vile and the Violators (Jesse Trbovich, Rob Laakso and Kyle Spence) sauntered out, briefly waved at the crowd, and launched into “Wakin on a Pretty Day”, the (almost) eponymous 10-minute first-track of the new album. The song painstakingly capturesa moment of agony in Vile’s life, and set the tone for the evening.
Vile’s recent touring has put the performed in every imaginable venue – from the famed intimacy of the Bowery Ballroom in New York to the sprawling mega crowds of Coachella – but his introspective lyrics create an intimacy that connects with his fans. Channeling Woody Gurthrieby way of J Mascis, Vile charged the live renditions of his mellow tunes – the most solitary numbers stood out for the lyrics of despair, sadness, loneliness, and torment. The band avoided the campfire singalong trope and injected influences from entertainers and showman like Fleetwood Mac and Springsteen, without emulating their on-stage persona. His mindfulness of his lyrics entranced the audience into the Kurt Vile experience.
Vile was mostly locked-in to the music but to his credit, he tried to address the audience in between songs when he asked “how’s it goin?” and then awkwardly pointed to guitarist JesseTrbovich adding “what… do you guys think of Jesse?” The audience responded with overwhelming approval. The band continued to alternate between new and old cuts including the title track from Smoke Ring for My Halo and “Jesus Fever”. Vile also reinvigorated some of his lesser-known songs, “The Hunchback” and “Dead Alive”.
In particular, one of the long-burning tracks from the new album “Goldtone” received a start-stoptreatement as the crowd sang along in hushed voices to the melodic ‘yeah yeahs’, as Vile spun his on-stage voodoo. Kurt Vile’s live show is a creature of unique circumstances – brief, poignant, and full of introspection, – and delivered exactly what the crowd had anticipated.
Kurt Vile and The Violators