Reviewed on Wednesday January 22
Hunched over his guitar with matted brown locks obscuring his face, you get the feeling Kurt Vile would’ve been more comfortable in a slightly cosier setting than the packed-out Sydney Town Hall. However, if he wanted to stay in smaller venues he shouldn’t have bestowed the world with two heart-beating classic records over the last few years. Tonight’s setlist (backed by his band The Violators) drew almost entirely from 2011’s Smoke Ring For My Halo and last year’s magnum opus, Wakin On A Pretty Daze, as the room full of attuned fans looked on adoringly.
Kurt Vile’s voice is more of a drawl than a serenade and his songs often don’t branch out beyond their fundamental A and B sections, yet they regularly chug past the six-minute mark. So what’s the source of Vile’s growing attraction? Well, put simply, Vile is one of the truly unique songwriters of our time. His voice, as withdrawn as it may sound, is capable of imparting shared uncertainty from a personally motivated place that corresponds with one’s own internal murmurs.
Tonight’s show magnified how this voice essentially drips out of him without a hint of affectation. Vile’s lyrics appear to be a direct, unfiltered exposition of his thoughts, but there’s no tinge of confessional crudity. Tonight also magnified just how good Vile’s guitar playing is. Jumping between a range of exquisite electric and acoustic guitars, Vile masterfully illustrated shoegaze atmosphere, rollicking leads and finger-picking delicacy.
Now, you can call him a slacker as much as you like, but Vile is undeniably responsible for a stack of very well-figured songs. They’re not formless or meandering, they’re just done his way. Set highlights included the scene-setting opening pair of ‘Wakin On A Pretty Day’ and ‘KV Crimes’, the ironic snarl of ‘On Tour’ and the demonstrative meditation ‘Goldtone’.
Perhaps the evening’s most affecting moments were when The Violators stepped aside, leaving Vile to play some up-close acoustic numbers. Smoke Ring centrepiece ‘Peeping Tomboy’ and its mature update ‘Too Hard’ both embodied Vile’s understated pre-eminence. He might tremble at responsibility and doesn’t promise the ‘answers’, but something is driving him, something redeems him. Is it love? Or music? It could be both.
“I’ve been searching, I don’t know what for,” he sings in ‘Peeping Tomboy’. If this search continues to beget such benevolent rewards, we’ll certainly keep listening. “That won’t be too hard…”