I wanna write my whole life down
Burn it there to the ground
I wanna sing at, top of my lungs
For fun, screamin’ annoyingly
‘Cause that’s just me bein’ me, bein’ free
Kurt Vile – “On Tour”
John Hiatt introduced me to the idea of a musician as “a lifer” when I interviewed him many years ago. The concept is pretty simple. It just means that the musician in question is going to keep on writing, recording and touring until he drops. I would imagine that Kurt Vile imagines himself a lifer as well. Four albums into his career, it’s hard to see him doing anything else.
Tuesday night’s show was fairly well attended for the day of the week and the relative obscurity of a guy like Vile in the Czech Republic. The crowd that did show up appeared to be full of pretty serious fans. That said, never have I seen so many people in their mid-20’s make out one minute and then sing along to the words of the song the next. That was some serious multi-tasking. I’ve also never had that many shots spilled on my feet as the same demographic brought round after round up to the front of the stage for their friends. I don’t begrudge them. It was just sort of inexplicable.
But it was strangely fitting for a Kurt Vile concert. His songs careen from romantic finger plucked acoustic ballads to feedback-drenched, drone fests. Despite my impression from various YouTube clips and laconic singing on his albums that Vile is a classic stoner, he looked unbelievably lucid and technically solid at Tuesday’s show. Stage banter was largely not-existent and his band struggled to keep up with him as one tune ended and another began.
The set list contained about 50% of the songs from “Smoke Ring for My Halo” and the rest from other releases. His backing band, The Violators, lent some serious heft to the occasion. On “Freak Train,” the whole band made some serious, ear-splitting noise. Alternately, on songs like “Peeping Tomboy,” restraint and the folky side of Vile showed through. It’s this space between loud and soft that Vile seems to travel with ease. So much so that if he ever puts out a best of album, I’d recommend calling it “Songs to Make and Rock Out To.”