There was something decidedly cosmic about seeing Kurt Vile headline the immense space of The Met Philly last night. Cosmic not only in the interweaving, meditative instrumental passages of his songs like “Bassackwards” from this year’s Bottle It In, but in that a set comprised largely of this far-out fare was able to mostly pack the 3500 capacity room, with only a couple sections of open seats in the upper-upper tiers.
To be fair, Kurt is more complex than just a rock and roll mumblecore meanderer; he’s a loud and proud devotee of Petty and Prine with legit pop songs, like the set-opening “Loading Zones” and the encore “Pretty Pimpin’”, hooky and fun nuggets boasting widespread appeal. When he branded himself “Philly’s constant hitmaker” a decade or so ago, the handle might have been steeped in aughties irony, but the dude has legit hits: the jaunty “Jesus Fever” and the beautiful ballad “Baby’s Arms” from 2011’s Smoke Ring for My Halo are two others that made appearances last night.
But where his contemporaries The War on Drugs — of which Vile is a founding member, and which he can barely escape mentions alongside, even in this review — prefer to space out but always keep mainstream accessibility on the table, Kurt tends to pop when he pops, and weird out otherwise. As we saw from last night’s warm reception, maybe that isn’t so inaccessible after all, even ten minutes into Bottle’s “Skinny Mini,” which was invigorated from the long open road of the album version care of heavy floor tom rhythms from drummer Kyle Spence.
“Girl Called Alex” dipped back to 2013’s masterful Wakin’ On a Pretty Daze, and got a similar live amplification as multi-instrumentalists Rob Laakso and Jesse Turbo built it into a hard-hitting, heavy jam with the man at the mic howling through strains of long hair. (I love when Vile brings out his inner Cobain.) And we also got to see the funny Kurt, the wiseass smirking at you from the cover photo of Bottle, when he beckoned “the Croz” onstage to jam on the barnburning “KV Crimes.” Some folks on social media seemed to genuinely believe that this person with long white hair and a grey beanie was David Crosby, but the more plausible explanation is that it was comedian Tom Scharpling (of The Best Show fame, who directed the song’s video) costumed in some sort of irreverent Croz-via-J Mascis homage.
Other highlights of the night were Vile’s solo acoustic performance of “Runner Ups” from Smoke Ring, or hearing him tease a few seconds of “Heart Attack” from 2009’s Childish Prodigy, or just seeing him break facade with an expression of awe in those moments when he looked out on The Met — which seems majestic from the photo trench, and I imagine looks even more so when you’re the person onstage — and saw it filled out to the top.
Opening the gig were New Jersey indie icons The Feelies and Baltimore DIY darlings Snail Mail. While neither of them had the sonic and textural variety of Vile, they both had practiced and pronounced sounds that were embellished upon over the course of their sets (an hour for the former, a half hour for the latter). And within their respective waves, moments of brilliance: for The Feelies, it came in the soaring leads of “Higher Ground” and the frenzied breakdown of “Crazy Rhythms,” for Snail Mail it was the resplendent set-closer “Pristine” which, if you only listen to one song from this much-talked-about band, make that the one, it is a thing of beauty.
Below, check out photos, fan videos, and a setlist from last night’s show.
I’m an Outlaw
Girl Called Alex
Cold Was The Wind
Heart Attack / Yeah Bones
Wakin on a Pretty Daze
Puppet to the Man
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