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“This is my favourite continent,” Kurt Vile said as he took to the stage on Wednesday night. And he’s proving it with a month in this country under his belt. He started in December touring Falls Festival with his band The War on Drugs and will tour the country once more with Laneway simply as ‘Kurt Vile’.
A converted Town Hall, rebranded as ‘Paradiso’ for Sydney Festival, played host to Vile and his band The Violators, providing the perfect backdrop for the Philadelphian to amass his signature dazed atmosphere.
Fittingly he began with the title track of his latest LP, Wakin On A Pretty Daze, walking the crowd through a melancholic tale just shy of 10 minutes. Despite the length and unwavering tempo, he reduced the crowd to silence; his American drawl startlingly attention grabbing.
The first half of the set was filled mostly with tracks from the latest LP. KV Crimes saw Vile at his most gritty while Goldtones was another ten-minute hit of folk excellence. The latter brought out the Dylan inside of him, speaking through most of the lyrics as if reading a narrative.
Vile has five albums to his name now. He’s steadily gone from a cult favourite to a head figure of the psychedelic-folk movement with his latest album garnering the most attention yet. It’s surprising then, that his older tracks rouse the most rapturous response from the crowd.
Jesus Fever, from 2010's Smoke Ring For My Halo, orchestrates a crowd sing-along as he addresses the “believers and lovers”, while the night’s heart starter comes courtesy of Freak Train from 2009's Childish Prodigy. With one of the Violators armed with a saxophone, the song creates the night’s climax, led by a runaway train beat.
Vile’s not a showman but that’s half his charm. He spends most of the set with his mane covering his face and head buried in his guitar. In between songs he only offers the occasional “thank you” before fiddling once again with his guitar. The Violators leave him for three songs as he takes to the acoustic guitar.
For somebody so introverted, he’s refreshingly honest and a vivid storyteller. Runner Ups delivers lines like, ‘If it ain’t workin’, take a whiz on the world/An entire nation drinkin’ from a dirty truck’, both nihilistic and subtly humorous.
The show closes with a lone Vile working his way through Too Hard. Closing on a sentiment like “Life is like a ball of beauty that makes you wanna just cry / Then you die”, is not a traditional way to end a show, but Vile is so convincing that he lulls you into his fuzzy, out-of-focus world with content. That state was only to be broken by the bustling traffic of a Sydney midnight. Back to reality.
Photo by Jack Cowling