Kurt Vile

Barfly, London, March 7th

It’s nearly 10.30pm and there’s no action whatsoever on Camden Barfly’s small stage. In front of it, the crowd is packed so densely it may as well be waiting for a Glastonbury headliner. Raising your arms is difficult. Going to the bar is laughably impossible. But rather than the kind of slow-clapping impatience you’d normally expect in such a situation, the 200-odd strong throng is a picture of decorum. A woman to our left is making an impassioned speech about The Modern Lovers. A couple are discussing their biology lecture. When Kurt Vile walks out 20 minutes later, tunes his guitar for
a bit then walks off again, no-one seems remotely riled. This remains
the tone, both onstage and off, for the rest of the evening.

When he returns, Vile’s acoustic meanderings are the musical equivalent of a massive spliff, and everyone here seems far too baked to do more than sway, smile and soak up the vibes. Despite forthcoming album ‘Wakin On A Pretty Daze’ nearing release, tonight’s 60-minute set draws predominantly from Vile’s 2011 breakthrough fourth LP ‘Smoke Ring For My Halo’. In this intimate setting it seems a wasted opportunity for the War On Drugs founder not to showcase his new stuff, but the crowd seems happy with what they’re given. ‘Hunchback’ – taken from third album ‘Childish Prodigy’ and usually buoyed by backing band The Violators – receives a stripped-down reimagining, its heavier throb replaced by acoustic restraint. The depleted version fits well with the American’s better-known output.

The familiar guitar lines of ‘Jesus Fever’ get the biggest cheers – two years down the line it still sounds as dreamily lush as ever – while ‘Baby’s Arms’ is an introverted, hypnotic display of expert simplicity. The two new tracks he plays – ‘Wakin On A Pretty Day’ and ‘KV Crimes’ – sync in easily, the former coming on like a pared-down Real Estate, the latter stripped back to something altogether more easy-going and subtle.

The problem, perhaps, is that, without his backing band, Vile’s naturally relaxed and gentle demeanour means all tonight’s offerings come out sounding the same. There are no peaks (or, to be fair, troughs). Everything is pleasant, but not exciting. But with everyone here squashing in and blissing out, that’s just about

Lisa Wright