What is Kurt Vile supposed to do? He reliably releases a good record every couple of years and then he moves on, should he fixate on the greatness of Wagonwheel Blues or Wakin On a Pretty Daze or pour everything into whatever new material is flowing through the pipe? Bottle It In and (watch my moves) mark the longest gestation period for Vile, excluding the Courtney Barnett collaboration Lotta Sea Lice, they took three and four years respectively. That added work time may not seem warranted but Vile seems determined to write those newer albums into the same conversation as his earlier work and the setlist he’s been touting lately, worked to that effect on the first of a three-day run at Thalia Hall on May 27th.
Natural Information Society opened that night with their blend of free jazz and experimental noise, something chaotic that blended better than expected with the measured improvisation of Vile’s solos that would follow. The group even managed to captivate more than the expected opener normally would pulling in a decent-sized crowd well ahead of Vile’s start time.
It was just before ten o’clock Vile took the stage though, opening the set with a (watch my moves)’ standout, “Palace of OKV in Reverse”, one of many tracks he would pull from his newest that night. Vile was as laid back as could be expected, saying very little and shuffling through a set that had already been honed at his last few shows. Even his cover of Silver Jew’s “Punks in the Beerlight” was well worn, enough to make an already Vile-esque Jews track sound like an original. “Say The Word” and “Mount Airy Hill (Way Gone)” we’re the real (watch my moves) highlights that night though, with Vile embellishing each with indulgent guitar and key solos and stretching the tracks as if they had come off an earlier album. For a song as well crafted as “Way Gone” that could be expected, but “Say The Word”, a relatively modest cut off the newest album was very much a surprise hit for the audience.
Vile kept his back catalog limited to the hits though. Each album got one spokestrack, whether it be “Pretty Pimpin’”, “Wakin on a Pretty Day”, “Peeping Tom” or set closer “Hunchback”. These could have come across as fan service sprinkled in a set so devoted towards newer output, but at this point they seem requisite, four of Vile’s best-crafted songs dividing up any perceived monotony. The tracks also proved just how well-aged they could be, with “Walkin on a Pretty Day” in particular, sounding as fresh and immediate, even with its extended run time, as when he was debuting it back in 2013. “Peeping Tom” also gave Vile’s band a mid-set break, with his solo-acoustic rendition, something that at this point could be done in his sleep, adding another change in mood.
Even the weakest track of the night, “Check Baby”, was at least put to good use as a vehicle for Vile to solo and lay the track out over ten minutes. That is really how so many of Vile’s songs develop, as a frontman for his band Vile is stoic and placid, always a few moments away from slipping into an opium dream and barely leaning towards the technicians who provide him with his next guitar. His vocal affection is slowed to just above a mutter and Vile never seems to muster anything more than a cool, breezy nod, but it all works and not just because of the strength and depth of his material but because of Vile’s ineffable ability to add mellow drama to each addition.
After the fiery “Hunchback”, Vile quickly retook the stage to plow through his encore, playing two tracks that seemed to be his personal favorites from (watch my moves). First was lead single “Like Exploding Stones” a track whose live version gave more focus towards keys and featured a noted enthusiasm was Vile himself. The other was less obvious as a closer. “Cool Water”, a laid-back rehash of what would amount to a classic Vile track, didn’t stand out on the new album as much as it did that night, with Vile seemingly cherry-picking it for inclusion and to accentuate the strength of the song. He was right to do that, and its ability to marry Vile’s competing inclinations to a sound definitive to himself, effectively opened the run of shows instead of serving as a closer for the night.