As a preface-turned-thinkpiece, it’s probably important to note that I suffer from epilepsy and although I have my suspicions that this correlates with my connection to music, that hypothesis is probably, at best, pseudo-science. But then again, Neil Young – fellow epileptic – has, before even the diagnosis, been this writer’s favourite musician of all time, connecting in a way no other has before or since. Apart from, perhaps, the first time my teenage self heard Appetite For Destruction.
That may seem a roundabout way of introducing a Kurt Vile review, but there’s an inescapable influence on those who channel Neil’s lucidly vague presence, from Kurt Cobain through Vile, and Jeff Mangum through Tweedy. As well as the resolute unwillingness to conform to any standards but his own – aside from that time he conformed so literally to Geffen that he had himself sued for not ‘being Neil’ – there’s a pervading mood that permeates each of his releases. It’s not ‘stoned’, as commonly perceived, as Vile and his chain-smoking sonic cousin Mac DeMarco – two of his most obvious current disciples – are stone-free.
Instead, it’s a base-functioning, oneiric calm amidst the storm, a sense of solely existing in the moment, and it’s one I feel in its most definitive way when epilepsy reduces my thoughts to autopilot through missed meals, routine, or medication. It lasts until I’ve solved most, if not all of the aforementioned problems. It feel equal parts empty-headedness, awareness that things aren’t right upstairs, and the desire to escape to solitude. Maybe it’s existential nausea, but I doubt it, since I was fairly excited about seeing Kurt Vile for the first time and I’m pretty sure it’s how Neil felt it was ok to release Arc – which is the closest thing to the inside of my head post-seizure. This state had become controlled as of late, but stranded in the middle of Dublin, 140 miles from home, I decide to see it through as I start noticing symptoms of the onset of my ‘aura’, as this sort of absence can be collectively known.
Brooklyn-based duo Lushes take to the stage at Vicar Street and almost immediately reveal theirselves as an earthrhythmically-fuelled concoction of Eastern-influenced post-punk, electronica, space rock, Krautrock and drone. They punch above the weight of any two-piece this writer has seen in a significant period of time, with percussion and sampling duties resting upon drummer Joel Myers; guitar and vocals, as well as some wonderful layering, on James Ardery, whose drawl falls somewhere between the atonality of Girl Band’s Dara Kiely and Josh Homme on a QOTSA B-side, most noticeably on the dynamically-rich simplicity of ‘Circus’, which, in the hands of other musicians could have been rendered banal.
The band spares us the two-member, one-trick-pony lowest common denominator trope in a very impressive first Irish outing, where their masterful repetition and dynamism mark them out as a rarity, mining out every piece of each idea, wearing their minimalist values on their sleeve. Their set peaks as it closes with ‘Feastin’, their 10 minute showcase on the art of a slow-build, chanted and drawn out with the primal power of Om, with its restraint lending it a reverence, the growing audience rapt by the time Lushes leave the stage.
Between bands, thoughts grow less coherent, and trains of thought are reduced to economy carriages, empty aside from myself and the pissed-up stranger who interrupts each sentence before it can finish. But I’m not acutely aware of how not-with-it I actually am, and figure I should bear this out, lest I let my pass go to waste, compromising journalistic standards, for all of which they still stand.
The rest of the show, in retrospect, sifts in and out of focus in memory, and a lot of piecing together is needed. Fortunately, the fact I was surrounded at the show by some of the people closest to myself allowed me to glean that I appeared vacant, and was conversationally, before and afterwards, running on empty, offering only a ‘cool’, or ‘alright’ without noticing or acknowledging social cues with anything other than a dead smile. I absorbed my surroundings and remember most of the night, but nothing of what I spoke aside from the embarrassment when I couldn’t finish the simple sentence I did try to verbalise.
I did, I’m told, react fervently to the music, and thoughts and feelings flowed much more naturally during the performance, singing along and being a decent audience member, essentially. I acknowledge fully how hackneyed the ‘music is what feelings sound like’ sentiment, and that it shouldn’t have to be explicitly justified in 2015, but in a world where originality is tantamount to being smart with your influences, the best way the catharsis felt from the music in these moments can be explained is, from this most basic point of view, music is a key component of ourselves that can communicate and appeal to our most base instincts in a way we can’t entirely comprehend. Yes, clichés abound, but you weren’t there, man. The auto-pilot, ego-free version of myself was taking it took, my state of mind felt addressed and in touch by the one thing commanding my attention, aware of my surroundings but incapable of introspection, self-consciousness and subjective thought other than the most basic of functions. It feels like the kind of solitude sought when the aura comes on.
Kurt Vile meanders into view, banjo and Violators in tow, looking like a Meat Puppet in one of their country phases, opening with a tune from his excellent, new fully-formed sixth album b’lieve i’m going down…, ‘I’m an Outlaw’. He gets through a ‘greatest hits’ of sorts, with each successive album accumulating more cuts, which is generally the sign of a horse worth backing in the long-run, unless faced with Spinal Tap levels of delusion. He and his supremely in-tune Violators, especially drummer Kyle Spence – also of sludge band Harvey Milk – effortlessly capture the pace and subtle groove required for their trademark sound on ‘Wakin On A Pretty Daze’ and ‘Pretty Pimpin’. Each of Vile’s instrument changes acts as a visual cue for his next shift in vibe – with a fizzing excitement felt when the Jaguar is strapped on to reveal his Neil Young-meets-Meat Puppets – one of the earlier adoptive parents to the Neil sound – straight-up rocker ‘KV Crimes’.
His self-effacing demeanour is infectious, and his incredibly underrated lyrical prowess is most pronounced on easily one of his finest compositions to date, ‘That’s Life, tho (almost hate to say)’. It epitomises and concisely examines his, much like DeMarco’s, ‘Languor’s poster boy’ character down to a tee, as well as summing up a worldview that acknowledges that we’re all essentially winging it in our own specific way. It’s a post-modern existentialism, or the deconstruction of self-mythologising, that now-marketing tool which led most of us onto Vile in the first place. His command of myself and the audience goes beyond verbal, as very few words other than humble thanks are spoken, but into strong pop-tunes laced with earthy, more esoteric influences seamlessly incorporated.
When his Crazy Horse leaves the stage for Childish Prodigy deep cut ‘He’s Alright’, we’re not considering his well-documented adorable detached persona, but hearing songs by a prolific, accomplished musician and songwriter by the classic standards to which he’d want to be held. During the first song of his encore, he enters John Fahey-esque fingerpicking mode during ‘Peeping Tomboy’ from 2011 breakthrough Smoke Ring For My Halo, in tiny bar mode, we’re there. It’s during his final song, ‘Wild Imagination’, the closer of his latest LP, when I’m told I’ll miss my bus home if I don’t leave now. I’m stunned to discover I’m ever supposed to leave this room. That thought hadn’t ever occurred. That’s Life, tho. Stevie Lennox
Photos by Laura Mac Lennan