No Matter How Big the Stage, Kurt Vile Invites You into a Living-Room Jam The psychedelic folk-rock artist’s latest and best record, Bottle It In, is worth seeing live
LOS ANGELES, CA- Kurt Vile brought his brand of ambling, psychedelic folk rock to the Wiltern in Los Angeles before the year wrapped, showcasing his his seventh and latest solo release, Bottle It In, an album he called his “bestest, deepest (and weirdest) record yet.”
Accompanied by his backing band — the Violators, of course — the Philadelphia native crafted a setlist from across much his solo career, crooned from behind his trademark curtain of wavy, dark brown hair. Opening with the new album’s first single, “Loading Zones,” Vile immediately turned the clock back for “Jesus Fever,” from 2011’s Smoke Ring for My Halo, before launching into a Bottle It In highlight: the drifting, introspective “Bassackwards.”
The crowd was primed for hits such as “Pretty Pimpin’” from 2015’s b’lieve i’m goin down…, which brought Vile’s solo work into greater view — before his solo career, Vile was a founding member of The War on Drugs — but he peppered the set with deeper cuts, as well, such as “KV Crimes” and “Girl Called Alex,” from 2013’s Wakin’ on a Pretty Day, as well as “Baby’s Arms” and “Runner Ups” from Smoke Ring.
Clad in a plaid shirt and jeans, Vile is unassuming, like he’d truly be just as happy playing guitar in his living room, but as long as we’re all here, he doesn’t mind letting you into his world for a while. It’s the sonic equivalent of a back-porch hangout on a Sunday morning — still reveling in the fact that it’s Sunday, sometimes vexed by the looming anxieties of Monday, but never for too long. But don’t let his easy-going nature fool you: Vile is a skilled guitarist who knows how to cultivate an atmosphere that loiters but never languishes, and watching him play is absorbing.
His version of “Wakin’ on a Pretty Day,” for example, saw Vile pulling tones out of an acoustic guitar that are usually reserved for their electric counterparts, jamming through nearly 10 minutes of fuzzed out, wonky guitars alongside Vile’s vocal yips and yelps. Although the album track also clocks in at nearly 10 minutes, the live version reinterprets a familiar song and infuses it with a vitality the crowd can’t help but return in kind, especially in his most enthusiastic moments, from the pep of “Yeah Bones” to the meandering guitar solos in “Skinny Mini.”
We were hoping he might bring out his recent cover of Tom Petty, another guy with a guitar and a drawl and no hurry to get anywhere. Back in October, covered Petty’s “Learning to Fly” for Sirius XMU with very Vile flair, though his style suits the song well. But the set wasn’t in need of anything as it stood, and we could enjoy being guests in Vile’s living room for as long as he’d have us.
Kurt Vile and the Violators will resume their tour of North America in February, followed by a jaunt to Australia, where we’re hoping fans will be treated to a track from Lotta Sea Lice, Vile’s charming collaboration with fellow indie rock darling Courtney Barnett, who’s based in Melbourne.
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