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Live review: Kurt Vile at Echoplex

May 08, 2013|By August Brown
  • Kurt Vile performing on the Outdoor stage at the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival last month.
Kurt Vile performing on the Outdoor stage at the Coachella Valley Music… (Jay L. Clendenin / Los Angeles…)

Kurt Vile wasn’t kidding when he titled his newest album “Wakin on a Pretty Daze.” The Philly-based singer-guitarist is absolutely committed to his vibe: wake-and-bake classic rock that Matthew McConaughey’s character in “Dazed and Confused” could lose an afternoon to.

The hard part is cutting through that daze to make a compelling live show. At the Echoplex on Tuesday night, Vile had a sold-out room of young fans eager to take a hit of whatever he’s offering. But it turns out that you need more than just a pretty daze to demand their attention.

Now five albums deep into an escalating solo career, Vile (with his revolving backing band the Violators) continues a line of loud but dreamy guitar acts who like big windups and long finishes --  Crazy Horse, Dinosaur Jr., John Fahey. Vile certainly looked the part on Tuesday, only occasionally peeking out from under his virtuosic mane of hair to play a run or sing a deadpan lyric.

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He set the pace early with a 10-minute long version of “Wakin on a Pretty Day" that suggested how the night would go -- repetition and atmosphere over swagger and fireworks. It captured everything he’s good at -- slow burns of three-guitar interplay that are less about buildups and payoffs than making time seem to disappear.

But that’s his best move, and he needs some other, more assertive ones. Vile is at the precipice of real rock stardom in indie circles, but at Echoplex he didn’t much act like it. On his LPs, Vile’s mumbling delivery and terminally chill presence perfectly compliments the mood. But on stage it just makes him hard to hear and holds the songs back. A little howling, a little hair-tossing or a little more enunciation would have gone a long way to part the fog.

When he did shake up his habits, his songs had new clarity. A solo acoustic take on “Peeping Tomboy” had a slacker grandeur and a lovely, Dylan-esque lilt. But his best moment came at the set’s close, during a visceral Krautrock take on his early single “Freak Train.” The drums were relentless, the feedback spiraled into space, and there was even a rip-roaring sax solo to close out the night.

This was the loudest, grab-you-by-the-collar tune of the night -- and for once, it was the crowd that was left feeling pretty and dazed.

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