Review: Kurt Vile at The Bluebird Theater

I bought in to the Kurt Vile slacker-persona bit for a while. Intentionally or not, Vile seemed the underachieving type: records like Constant Hitmaker and Childish Prodigy had glimpses of energetic rock genius/madman (see: “Freeway”, “Hunchback”), but albums as a whole never quite rounded out into more than good with a few flashes of great. Even breakthrough album Smoke Ring for My Halo often sounded phoned in compared to his work with Philadelphia band The War on Drugs, a group that infused shoegaze elements with concise and extroverted blues rock on debut Wagonwheel Blues. Then Vile released Wakin on a Pretty Daze this year, pulling out the rug from under my notions of a Vile letting his long hair getting in the way of his songcraft. A 70 minute opus that never loses focus even with several tracks past the nine-minute mark, Vile’s fifth album is his finest, a record that harkens back to the golden era of album rock and is certainly one of the year’s finest.

On Thursday night’s sold out Bluebird Theater show, Vile performed mostly material from Daze with help from his backing band the Violators. Despite a few early sound issues, the quartet found a rhythm, albeit looser than their recorded incarnations, on opener “Jesus Fever” and almost-title track “Wakin On a Pretty Day”. Vile did little to interact with the chatty crowd other than occasionally spurting “Thanks”, but he did get big cheers claiming this was the group’s first time playing in Colorado. Though Vile’s vocals were occasionally muddied, his unique blasé delivery was distinguishable as always, and that’s part of what’s so endearing about Vile’s music. Case in point: on Daze track “Was All Talk”, Vile claimed “Making music is easy – watch me” while playing barre chords with his thumb, sounding great while living up to his words. Vile is an adroit guitarist, with that song’s coda and “Ghost Town” gave him extended opportunity to showcase his fretwork to the audience’s vocal delight. A couple of acoustic numbers provided further evidence of Vile’s slacker-no-more dexterity before bringing back the band for the lurching “Hunchback” and “Freak Train”. They might not be the tightest band on the touring circuit nowadays, but with a lengthy tour and an album that’s sure to be on many year-end lists, Vile and company certainly aren’t letting their hands stay idle for long.