A little like Pumpehuset, the venue of his concert tonight, Kurt Vile sort of slips under the radar when it comes to music. Understated, unbeknown – call it what you will – but the Philadelphian guitarist and songwriter’s tunes, penned both as a solo act and with his band the Violaters, have seemed to stay low-key and retain their indie edge whilst gaining a sizeable following. He arrives in Copenhagen on a Saturday night to a cultish crowd who are sure to be feverish about the talented man and musician – one who often exhibits two distinct sides to his personality through his music. Which will we see this evening?
Danish band Petrus Katell slip the night’s proceedings into gear with their expansive yet parochial brand of folk rock. Per Løkkegaard and crew, in what turns out to be an enchanting set, despatch spacious, resonating percussion and Fleet Foxes-esque harmonies. Turning Pumpehuset’s stage into a church pulpit, their music shakes the soul, no doubt loosening the audience’s blood vessels ready for the main man later.
Saying that though, Petrus Katell have arrived as much to share the occasion with Kurt Vila as to support him. They could be a headline act.
When Vile and company do take to the stage, the ‘blood, sweat and tears’ rock ‘n’ roll that characterised their early music – as well as that of Vile’s first band, The War on Drugs – is evident. Long-haired musicians instigate a torrent of guitar riffs and drums: riffs which, were they played on a moving boat, would throw the whole vessel and its crew viciously from side to side.
The audience is in raptures. This early show not only means a hell-raising set introduction, but also that the more stripped-down, desperate acoustics of Vile’s latter solo stuff are to follow.
And, sure enough, as the gig crosses the midway mark, Vile is left alone on stage with his guitar for a restless rendition of ‘Peeping Tomboy’. The lyric “I don’t wanna change, but I don’t wanna stay the same” is indicative of a sentiment surely shared by most of the single-generation onlookers: a feeling of loose-endishness and wayward indecision endemic in modern society.
Vile, playing beautifully, moves onto songs such as the timidly sardonic ‘Society is My Friend’ and ‘Ghost Town’, the latter turning out to be the show’s climax, with the reassembled backing band knocking out accomplished licks and beats and the mood being taken in yet another direction.
This, in a nutshell, is what Kurt Vile is all about: a tour de force of mood, angst and musical mastery. Saturday night’s gig proved that, in this day and age of contrived, big-budget entertainment franchises, that not all is lost in aesthetic. There’s still room for someone to keep their swathes of fans hooked just by being their unedited selves.