On a Thursday night at 7:45, the almost century-old venue in Kreuzberg, Berlin, starts filling up. Some laid back rock tunes play in the background as I watch an audience pour into Huxley’s that could not be any more diverse. Ten-year-old kids with their parents mingle amongst hipsters in their late 20s, and a couple of rock fans who are probably old enough to have cheered on Chuck Berry.
Just on time at eight o’clock sharp, Meg Baird and Mary Lattimore take to the stage. On the harp and the electrical guitar they play a couple of indie songs from their collaborative album Ghost Forests that, with Meg’s angelic voice, remind one of a church choirs. And it certainly proves as powerful.
After their set, it wasn’t too long before “Loading Zones” was echoing off the walls. Kurt Vile and The Violator were welcomed by a warm applause of an anticipating crowd. Donning worn out Vans, a Highwaymen shirt and a bright red Gibson, Kurt laid down a strong start with the upbeat indie pop song.
The crowd was already getting their grove on, swaying to the beat, as Vile seamlessly moved into “Hysteria”, another song from the new album Bottle It In. I was positively surprised by the versatile love version of the song, which I found too repetitive on the recording. Instead of looping on the same fingerpicking sequence for minutes, the singer moves onto an electrifying solo, which is still ringing in my ears.
The fans clinging to the barrier of the first row already know the lyrics to the new songs. And even though Kurt Vile should be used to performing in front of a big loving audience by now, he still blushes and awkwardly shrugs at the raging waves of applause following each track. But under the curtain of hair we see the musician throw a sly grin at the crowd.
Backlit by blue orbs of light, he plays a wild mixture of new songs and classics, like “Walking on a Pretty Day” and “KV Crimes”. The Violators provide Kurt with a solid stance of drum, bass, and guitar to play his refined solos on. Kyle Spence especially shines on “Check Baby”, which is built around an all-consuming steady drum rhythm.
For quieter, acoustic songs, the three musicians leave Kurt Vile alone with the audience. This creates special intimacy for emotional tracks like “Stand inside”. Vile sings in his laconic drawl, only on and off, interrupted by one of his cowboy-like “YEW!” shrieks, that fans echo enthusiastically. The guitarist finishes the ten-track set with “Wild Imagination” and leaps of the stage with a short “I love you guys. Good night!” leaving behind the eager audience asking for an encore.
And of course, after letting the crowd wait for just the appropriate amount of time, the band picks up their instruments again and bursts right into “Pretty Pimpin’”, which is probably Vile’s best-known song. They add “Peeping Tomboy” and the set ends with Kurt Vile singing “Baby’s Arms” alone on stage.
If you love Kurt Vile’s albums, it would be impossible to be disappointed in concert. Live,the Philadelphian sounds just as authentic as on the records and gives the songs extra spice by lengthening the solos and using an impressive range of pedals. The minimalistic stage show had a trance-like vibe, hypnotising the audience with slow-burn psychedelic melodies and adventurous electric guitar riffs.
Aside from the music, Vile’s guitar assistant should get some credit here, for probably moving more than the artist himself during the entire set. After almost every single song, Vile switches guitars without missing a beat. In his dry humour he credited the running assistant a “Thanks Hun”.
Kurt Vile’s show had a very grown up flair. This is a concert for music lovers; not for moshing or crazy sing-alongs. The gently swaying audience listened and appreciated every note cried by Kurt or his guitar “to the utmost degree”. It gave evening a special, intimate, almost secretive atmosphere. In front of thousands of fans, the artist still has the ability to completely drift of into a world of his own creations, giving the audience an exclusive invitation to join him on the journey. It’s a journey not to be missed in Australia next year.
FOUR STARS (OUT OF FIVE)
Catch Kurt Vile and The Violators in Australia in April 2019.
Mon Apr 15 Enmore Theatre, Sydney
Tue Apr 16 Unibar, Wollongong
Wed Apr 17 ANU, Canberra
Mon Apr 22 Forum Melbourne
Sat Apr 27 The Gov, Adelaide
Sun Apr 28 Rosemount Hotel, Perth
They will also performing at Bluesfest 2019.
The reviewer attended the show at Huxley’s in Berlin on 18th October 2018.