Some people bemoan a lack of artistic development in record labels these days. This is hogwash, of course. For sure, it may be a tad easier to get dropped too quickly, but in reality it has always been that way. Back in 1962, Bob Dylan’s debut album shifted only 5,000 copies in its first year (admittedly, a decent sum these days), reaching No.13 in the UK but getting absolutely nowhere in the States. Dylan was nicknamed “Hammond’s Folly” by waggish Columbia execs. They wanted to drop him. John Hammond, who discovered him, fought his corner hard, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Kurt Vile is approaching 40, and his career has been on a slow burner ever since he released his first DIY homemade record when in his teens. He did that for a few years, before forming The War on Drugs with Adam Granduciel, whilst at the same time continuing his solo career, slowly but surely gaining traction for his laid-back classic rock sensibilities, artists such as Neil Young at the forefront of his mind. A series of well received albums (with his band The Violators), and a relatively high profile collaboration with Courtney Barnett last year (he eschews playing any of this tonight) have all helped his cause. Over the years he has declared himself to be the consummate musician, and a wry, self-deprecating writer of quality, appealing to those who admire nifty and eclectic, if outwardly inexpressive, guitar skills, and a slightly alt-rock approach to songwriting.
With his long, straggly hair, and check shirt, this is a heads down, no nonsense exploration of his back catalogue, with an emphasis on his warmly received new album Bottle It In; a work that emphasises the repetitive nature of the rhythmic groove that he has recently fallen in love with. Together with his long standing band that includes the basslines of Rob Laakso, Kyle Spence’s drums, and Jesse Trbovich on second guitar, Vile eschews showmanship, instead opting for his typically workman-like approach to music.
Beginning with that album’s lead track ‘Loading Zones’, the sound tonight is unusually crystal clear, the vocals relatively high up in the mix, as Vile drawls his way through these newer groove-based songs such as the dreamy, tripped out ‘Bassackwards’, the slide-infused slo-mo of ‘Cold Was the Wind’, the chirpy guitar-stutter of ‘Yeah Bones’, and the heavy languidness of ‘Check Baby’. He also mixes in plenty of old favourites, including the easy going jangle of Smoke Ring For My Halo‘s ‘Jesus Fever’, an acoustic rendition of ‘Runner Ups’, the banjo-rich ‘I’m An Outlaw’ from the B‘lieve I’m Goin Down… album, and “a song about his girl”, Wakin On a Pretty Daze‘s ‘A Girl Called Alex’, along with the dreamy country-rock of ‘Wakin’ On A Pretty Day’, and the raw roots-rock of the Neil Young-inspired ‘KV Crimes’.
With a vast array of pedals at his disposal, and a busy guitar tech who is constantly handing Vile a different guitar in-between songs, the band finishes off with one of their best know tunes, ‘Pretty Pimpin’, one of Vile’s more melodically engaging songs that, combined with a sturdy beat, gets the crowd decidedly moving to its bouncy groove. “All I want is to just have fun, live my life like a son of a gun”, he sings. He’s, in the best possible sense, pimping his wares, as it were, to an appreciative audience.