Kurt Vile @ Scala 08/09/2011 (Live Review)
Back in March this year, prolific Philadelphia based songwriter Kurt Vile released his 4th and most accomplished album to date. Smoke Ring for my Halo is a stunning realisation of Vile’s idiosyncratic style; ten tracks, carefully arranged and languidly performed, each an impressive notch on the singer’s belt as he positions himself as one of the great contemporary American songwriters.
It’s the tracks from Smoke Ring… that went down the best with a sold out Scala crowd last night. Vile and his band (The Violators) played an intense set that was both unassuming and lacking in pretence, while all the time the singer’s understated melodies sang out from underneath armpit-length hair; a rake thin frame hunched over his guitar.
Bookending the set alone at the mic with an acoustic, (a closing rendition of ‘Peeping Tom’ particularly stirring), it was backed by his band that Vile really shines. Fresh versions of ‘Society is my Friend’ and ‘Jesus Fever’ retained the charm and intrigue of their studio counterparts, while ‘Hitchhiker’s two chord stomp was reminiscent of Neil Young and Crazy Horse at their most determined.
But it’s the subtleties in Vile’s music – of production, performance, lyrical content – that make him infinitely more palatable than 99% of other guitar-clutching singer-songwriter types. There is “no woe-is-me”, no charade, and despite writing almost exclusively in the first person, Vile is rarely biographical – or at least not obviously so. At his most plain-spoken however, the man can be devastating, something that he proved last night with a well-received encore of ‘Baby’s Arms’, the yearning opening track from Smoke Ring… and a fitting close to the night.