It’s been two years since Kurt Vile last toured the UK, and it’s clear his return is anticipated as Leeds’ O2 Academy fills up comfortably on a nondescript Sunday evening. It seems that the audience is not alone in this polite yet earnest apprehension: between every few songs the Philadelphian songwriter mumbles a soft expression of gratitude along the lines of “love you” or “thank you” from beneath his signature locks.
Kurt Vile nails the craft of writing humble but still accomplished songs. He seasons his distinctively slack vocals, thick with accent, with fiddly guitar work, which he peppers with plenty of whoops and wails. In this same lackadaisical manner, his performance is simple and unshowy, with no gimmicks or over-extended conversation; it’s just him and his band, the Violators, left to wander leisurely between the soporific numbers and the more upbeat ends of his extensive discography. The set features tracks from his latest album Bottle It In, released last month, from the unfurling ode ‘Skinny Mini’ to the slow and swoony ‘Cold Was the Wind’. The latter, with its shimmery slide guitar and melancholy edge, is especially special. But the show is by no means dull: throughout the set, we see at least 6 guitar changes, not including the banjo for twangly 2015 hit ‘I’m an Outlaw’ that blissfully sweeps away any encroaching monotony.
His lyrics and casual delivery mimics a stream-of-consciousness, with added wit and charm to the otherwise mundane. This is particularly well done in ‘Pretty Pimpin’’, the first of two encore tracks. It is perhaps these last moments that serve as the show’s highlights.
All in all, it’s a pretty tranquil night of pleasant, easy-going music, which feels like an appropriate way to wrap up the week.
Header Image Credit: Caroline Vandekerckhove