The response to Kurt Vile’s April record Wakin On A Pretty Daze was as loud as it was emotional, as happens with music that crawls inside of you and refuses to leave, the songs creating just the right amount of fog to escape into for a little while. People who hadn’t previously “gotten” Vile started to “get it,” and as a result, Vile’s New York City tour stop sold out fast. Ahead of last night’s show, I was both nervous and curious to see if Vile could live up to the album live. I’d seen them play from the record earlier this year at Coachella, but something about the heat and the sun there, or as my friend put it, “the sweating from weird places,” just didn’t vibe right. Turns out, it was just a problem of vibes in the desert, and last night, the stars aligned and the vibes were, for the most part, just right.
Opening with “Wakin On A Pretty Day,” Daze‘s first track, Vile was initially reserved, singing through his curtain of curly brown hair like it was a shield, only occasionally swaying or looking up at the crowd. He played with an acoustic guitar for the first half of the set, noodling brightly as his incredibly deft backing band, The Violators, kept things swirling along. It’s hard to stand and listen to an album you’re so used to lolling around to, draping yourself on your bed or across your couch or zoning out on your ride home from work. I was overwhelmed by the desire to lay down on the beer-drenched floor, or to lean against one of the sleepily swaying people crushed beside me. I didn’t, but I wasn’t alone in the urge. Late in the night a friend who also attended the show said, “I wish there had been sofas.”
Midway through the set, the crowd thinned a bit as Vile played a stripped-down series of songs solo. It was hard to remember what he’d already played and what was still coming. Eventually The Violators returned, Vile traded his acoustic guitar for an electric and whatever had been missing suddenly clicked. The haze of psychedelia that had been hanging over the set transformed into a thick blanket, and the crowd started, finally, to dance. Vile played his guitar like it was an extension of his body, taking off his white jacket and letting his hair swing back and away from his face.
The highlight of the set came in the first encore, when the band performed a snappy rendition of “Baby’s Arms,” off of Vile’s breakout 2010 album Smoke Ring For My Halo that traded the usual human hum and smack of live drums for a brisk, completely surprising drum machine. I once again had that pull to melt into something, or someone, propelled by the tender arpeggios and that signature Kurt Vile drawl. No longer meandering, the band was completely in stride, and all the excitement, and hype, and anticipation felt justified.
Download a live rendition of Kurt Vile’s “Smoke Ring For My Halo,” recorded for his Brooklyn Bound session: