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Kurt Vile – Shepherd's Bush Empire, London 11/12/13

18 December 2013, 11:55 | Written by Joe Daniels

The backdrop at Shepherd’s Bush Empire tonight, adorned with nomadic slogans of goodwill lifted from the Wakin on a Pretty Daze album sleeve, serves as a fitting embodiment of Kurt Vile and the Violators as a live force.

The songs, as on record, are breezy but barbed and they’re played with a looseness that could almost pass as a swagger. Opening, as the aforementioned LP does, with “Wakin on a Pretty Day”, the west London crowd is immediately lulled by the cadent noodling of Philadelphia’s scruffiest exports, only to be nudged out of it by some angular guitar work.

There’s bonhomie to Vile’s lackadaisical approach that immediately endears him to the audience. Like Stephen Malkmus before him, he’s the everynomad. He exudes ramshackle warmth and his stage presence almost seeks to underwhelm, as though going through the motions of showmanship would expose him in some way. A hushed “thank you” here, a stuttered “how are you all?” there. Stop me if I’m getting carried away but even his hair seems a happy retreat at times.

Much has been said of Vile’s vocal ability, and while it’s undisputed that his singing is lacking in technical proficiency, it does pass the acid test of American folk-influenced singing: he means it. So, on a particularly jaunty “KV Crimes” (tonight mirroring its position on the album’s tracklist), no one cares that his voices rasps about unceremoniously so long as it’s earnest.

“Goldtone” is a swirling mesh of soothing guitars and textures. “Was All Talk” as bittersweet as it is on record. “Freak Train”, closes the main set, a joyously oddball manifesto for not giving hoot what other people think.

The only trouble with Kurt Vile in a venue of the Shepherds Bush Empire’s size is that his more visceral songs can lose their potency while his more soulful songs lose their poignancy. Instead, what is left is an ever-so-slightly underwhelmed palate longing for the days when he played in smaller rooms. Of course, that’s not going to happen given his hard-earned and ever-growing fanbase, and as such, by tonight’s standard it’s a fair compromise.

Photograph by Wumni Onibudo. See full gallery here.

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