Kurt Vile shows surprising soul

Alt-rock’s latest It Boy seems to be more than just another great head of hair

    1 of 1 2 of 1

      At the Rickshaw Theatre on Monday, August 5

      The alternative-rock world has always had an obsession with talented, longhaired, white male singer-songwriters—especially ones named Kurt. It’s no surprise, then, that indie darling Kurt Vile has become rock critics’ latest It Boy, as well as the toast of Vancouver, judging by last night’s packed show at the Rickshaw.

      Still riding the tidal wave of acclaim that followed the release of his fifth album, Wakin on a Pretty Daze, Vile took the Rickshaw’s stage dressed head to toe in pristine, pearly white. Illuminated by a yellow halo of stage lights, he looked perfectly Christlike as his front-row disciples gazed in awe at his Eddie Vedder mermaid tresses.

      Hiding behind his curtain of wavy bedhead locks, Vile squinted intensely as he and the Violators—guitarist Jesse Trbovich, drummer Vince Nudo, and bassist Rob Laakso—opened the set with feel-good saga “Wakin on a Pretty Day”. Occasionally giving an unintentionally fabulous hair flip, Vile stayed rooted in the spotlight as he crooned with a perpetually bored and charming stoner drawl.

      While the band breezed through more tracks off Wakin on a Pretty Daze and 2011’s Smoke Ring for My Halo, the video screens projected images of swirling paint, well suited to the fluidity of Vile’s fingers as they darted smoothly across his fretboard. Sun-kissed slow-burners like “Jesus Fever” and “Was All Talk” exemplified the half fired-up, half chilled-out vibe of the show, which noticeably picked up steam as it chugged along.

      Besides a few apathetic-looking attendees who may have just been too cool to show emotion, the mostly Tumblr-iffic crowd lapped it up. Grooving blissfully to Nudo’s steady beat, they dutifully sang all the “Woo!”s in “Shame Chamber” and filled the Rickshaw’s sticky floor with empty PBR cans. Many a topknot bun was seen on the hipster ladies in attendance, and even on one particularly shameless dude.

      Flying solo for a couple of acoustic numbers, Vile’s guitarwork was simple and seemed effortless. “I don’t want to change, but I don’t want to stay the same,” he sang bittersweetly, while the notes of his melodic noodling shimmered like effervescent pop fizz. “I’m pregnant!” hollered one profoundly moved fanboy. “Encore, you son of a bitch!” yelled another, despite the fact that Vile hadn’t yet left the stage. How embarrassing.

      The epic psych-rockers “Hunchback” and “Freak Train”, both off 2009’s Childish Prodigy, were a couple of the night’s most impressive numbers, seeing Vile switch from introspective artist to cosmic, howling animal. On “Hunchback”, Trbovich wrangled his six-string like it was a bucking bronco, while on “Freak Train” he went nuts on a sax that was sadly too low in the mix.

      Capping off the night with “Too Hard”, Vile took his time plucking the feather-light tune, singing, “Life is like a ball of beauty that makes you wanna just cry—then you die.” And although the mosh pit thinned out substantially during the eight-minute track, those who remained up at the front were enraptured by the lilting, folk-dipped ballad. Or maybe they were just imagining running their fingers tenderly through Vile’s hair.

      In all honesty, Vile’s music probably isn’t going to permanently change anybody’s life. And the singer may turn out to be just another bright flash in the already teeming pan. But as far as sincere, down-to-earth rock ’n’ roll goes, he clearly has a lot of soul. And that isn’t easy to come by.