Imperfection as Ideology: Kurt Vile at the Black Cat Backstage

Kurt Vile

It’s perfectly reasonable to be suspicious of a musician with as mighty a moniker as Kurt Vile. If that was a stage name (it’s not*) the intimation would be of the most confrontational, petulant punk, but the Philadelphia-based Vile’s defiantly primitive, accident-prone songs are lazier and hazier than that, rarely straying from the long and droning road but hinting at melodic paths untaken. Imperfection is his ideology.

At the Black Cat Backstage last night, Vile ambled through the final date of a month of shows with his three-piece band, The Violators, for what he said was the largest crowd he’d played. Double digits, still — right-sized. He opened the 70-minute set with a solo take of “Peeping Tomboy,” which, like so much of the spectral folk side of his songbook, seemed to waft in from some phantom radio. Even when the combo joined him for the stouter stuff — like “Freak Train,” the self-explanatory centerpiece of his just-released Childish Prodigy album — the cacophony was more ethereal than kinetic.

Performances like “Monkey” and “Inside Lookin’ Out” conjured their own slow-burning, hypnotic arc. The set as a whole could have used more urgency, or maybe just a few less show-interrupting broken guitar strings, but that wouldn’t be Vile’s style.

After innumerable self-releases, his songs still sound like their paint’s still wet, which is part of their appeal. It remains to be seen whether they can, or should, expand beyond the cult of sober head-nodders who paid their respects last night. The only person dancing was a British girl whose accent was pitched just-so to be perfectly audible through the din.

“They’re really quite good,” she chirped. Cheers.

*His parents told the New York Times they hadn’t heard of that German guy who wrote “Mack the Knife” with Bertolt Brecht.

This review appears today on Post Rock.

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