Tonight feels different. When we last met Kurt Vile, there was a somewhat detached air about the hirsute guitar maestro and erstwhile Warrior on Drugs. This heavily subscribed Vicar St show sees him joined by threepiece backing band the Violators, whose fraternal presence appears to temper the 35-year-old’s more curtained tendencies. They also help make flesh the ranging, circular rock songs that we felt didn’t get fully airborne last time around due to it being a solo acoustic show.
Vile may resemble a bed-headed guitar tech and sing in a resigned drawl but the vibe the quartet conjure is, like Vile’s career in general, the stuff of fierce determination. That voice is less a disseminator of poetic visions than a read-back from his own slacker diary, a one-man conversation about times hazy and perplexing on the great Americana highway. ‘Dust Bunnies’ (one of many highlights off this year’s believe I’m goin down served up here) uses douses of organ and a steady thump to get heads nodding. During the bittersweet bliss of ‘Walkin’ On a Pretty Day’, the wirey frame and formidable mop curl over the guitar as he goes off on one of his refreshingly indulgence-free solos.
Yes, where Vile goes so too does a crisp, multi-coloured guitar style that is all his own. Tonight, he swaps banjo (‘I’m An Outlaw’) for sumptuously finger-picked acoustic (‘Stand Inside’, ‘That’s Life, Tho’) for Fender Jaguar (‘KV Crimes’, the dusty ‘Wheelhouse’) whipping them off impatiently afterwards as if fearful of a sag in atmosphere. When someone deliriously blurts out “Kurt Vile!” amid the howls of approval, you question his concern.
‘Freak Train’ makes for a perfect crescendo, a frenzied, saxophone-buoyed celebration of rock ‘n’ roll in all its adolescent chaos. Security-riling scamps are up on the shoulders of others. Vile holds his Jaguar aloft like a beacon as FX pedals squall through the room of grins. There are no salutes or shout outs to our fallen brothers and sisters in Paris. It’s not his style. But what he’s done tonight has sounded a reminder to jaded hearts everywhere following the atrocity just 48 hours previously. The message is gin-clear: Rock ‘n’ roll will never be killed. These nights will never be taken from us. Nous Somme Bataclan.
Follow Hilary A White on Twitter – @HAWhiteK