It seems difficult when discussing Kurt Vile to avoid his association with The War on Drugs and his mate Adam Granduciel, like we wouldn’t have the former without the latter. The two are certainly intertwined but it is worth noting that Vile only contributed as an official band member to The War on Drugs’ debut album. What is often overlooked is Adam Granduciel’s role in The Violators which led to a creative collaboration over several Kurt Vile albums and EPs. This significant relationship provides an entry point to the development of both artists, but they are parallel entities and always have been. This certainly seems to be appreciated by fans in Manchester tonight, who get to experience a gently transcendent musical journey through Vile’s repertoire.
Opening for the Philadelphia native are Meg Baird on guitar and Mary Lattimore on her Lyon and Healy concert harp. The duo have just released a collaborative album called Ghost Forests full of enigmatic, tender compositions and the brittle opener ‘Between Two Worlds’ drifts into our consciousness this evening. Baird’s guitar provides shivery inflections with Lattimore’s harp offering the glue keeping the atmospherics together. The duo are an intriguing prospect, but an early slot in a large venue full of a Saturday night crowd is not really the best way to appreciate their ethereal musings. Their final track is a fragile rendition of Neil Young’s ‘Wrecking Ball’ and the more identifiable structure captures the attention of the early arrivers; experiencing Meg Baird and Mary Lattimore in more intimate, attentive surroundings would no doubt make for a compelling experience.
Kurt Vile’s most recent album Bottle it In is his most consistent release and it is no surprise that this is the focus of this evening’s show; the magnificent ‘Loading Zones’ opens proceedings establishing the show’s defining characteristics early on. Soothing scales blessed with cultured bluesy inflections compliment Vile’s slightly jaded vocals which conclude with a guttural whoop and the crowd return it back with glee before Vile launches into old track ‘Jesus Fever’. The musical DNA of Vile is so distinctive that it is impossible to not be reminded of how crucial he must have been in those early days in The War on Drugs, and the song possesses a structure that is immediately identifiable, but a mellower, more mellifluous structure to it means any similarities to the other band are easily buried.
‘Bassackwards’ follows and is the perfect example of Vile’s knack of knocking out epic songs with an intimate vibe. The acoustic number meanders at such a pleasant measure, allowing the listener to really become immersed in the lyrical odyssey that is such a recurring delight in his material. Yes, not much may be happening on the Albert Hall stage, but the cadence is hypnotic.
It was 2015’s B’lieve I’m Goin’ Down which reinforced his whooping, lo-fi folk-rock approach and ‘I’m an Outlaw’s’ gentle banjo melody provides an authenticity to proceedings before another guitar change introduces ‘Check Baby’ adding a bit of weary, on-the-road pessimism to the chilled mood. Some have argued that there is an unsatisfying homogeneous quality to his records but these opening songs disprove this theory; although the tone may be pretty laid-back, things are certainly not placid, and as the evening progresses we get to experience Vile’s subtle approach to his songwriting. A solo version of ‘Peeping Tomboy’ provides more fragile delights before ‘Waking on a Pretty Day’ reminds us all once again of his innate ability to craft songs that caress without ever getting boring, despite the epic length. The more angular ‘KV Crimes’ follows, further demonstrating the subtle shifts in pace and style that the singer-songwriter draws on.
As well as proving his notable talents on guitar, Vile also proves to be ambidextrous of the feet, demonstrating impressive skill as he prowls over his pedal board generating the multitude of subtle tonal shifts which his songs demonstrate. The crowd are clearly thrilled and several solos are accompanied by impromptu rounds of applause. We’re rewarded with an encore that opens with Vile’s signature track; ‘Pretty Pimpin’ is a song that connects thematically with all in attendance this evening and although the pace and atmosphere may not have shifted too dramatically, the song demonstrates the passion we all have for the man from Philadelphia!