Kurt Vile in Vicar Street, Dublin, 15 November 2015
“It’s supposed to be fun, we’re not supposed to be scared to death,” says Lushes’ James Ardery to the crowd gathered in Vicar Street at the end of a weekend that saw Paris’ La Bataclan venue hit the headlines for all the wrong reasons. Friday’s terrorist attacks have had a profound effect on performer and punter alike, and anyone who attended a show over the weekend can attest to the underlying sense of sadness and disbelief. Ardery’s words are an acknowledgment of the thing that remains in the back of the mind of every gig-goer, and will do for some time – but he’s right, and it’s a heartfelt precursor to the duo’s warm-up slot.
Lushes bring to mind early Liars, with an abrasive, dance-y post punk edge wrought by just two men – guitar and drums, vocals and samples. Ardery frequently bends to the pedals to elicit all sorts of noise from his guitar, while Joel Myers takes care of the backbeat, triggering off samples and loops on the pads attached to the kit. He turns to the keyboard beside him during Feastin’ as Ardery abandons his guitar to sing, hunched over the mic while Myers lays out the underlying drone. Circus takes things into sludge-y rock territory – “Holy moly, wingin’ it up here” smiles Ardery, before one final freak-out, hammering the neck of his guitar with his palm and closing down a set of dark, heavy pulse-quickeners.
Lushes’ brand of sonic dissonance may seem at odds with that of Kurt Vile, but Vile’s own mix of Americana, indie, folk, and Southern rock often wanders into darkly-themed realms despite his laid-back demeanour. His recent ‘b’lieve i’m goin down…’ album saw him delve further into introspective reflection, and Vile’s stage presence – carving out notes from behind a face-obscuring curtain of hair – only adds to the mystique.
The banjo of I’m an Outlaw opens tonight’s set, but from this point on its guitars to the fore as Vile switches between electric and acoustic, and his band swap instruments, multi-tasking on bass, keys, and ol’-fashioned six-stringed electric assault. Vile manages to get a pretty gnarly sound from the acoustic on Wakin On a Pretty Day’s solo, completely contrasting with the later bright picking of Peeping Tomboy – it’s a folksier aside, but Vile’s playing style remains sublime whatever the requirement.
He seems a bit more extrovert onstage than previous outings; bouncing around with a leg aloft, even inviting requests (although none are taken), before a low-key He’s Alright with long-time second slinger Jesse Trbovich. Trbovich dons a sax for the set’s noisiest moment – a bit of unsecured drum and guitar duelling turns into Freak Train, descending into a cacophony of looped pedal effects and drum fills, with Vile’s guitar swung overhead. It must be the locomotive charge that infects the band, because the night’s other gutsy rocker, Springsteen’s Downbound Train, is similarly muscular, cranking up to a rumbling, rolling end.
“Some crowds are mean to us… psych” Vile drolly jokes, offering a few words of gratitude to the warm response from the Sunday night crowd. With a set that draws from a handful of Vile’s albums, tonight bounced from songs like a meandering and loose Wheelhouse, to a country rockin’ Jesus Fever, to elongated triple-guitar wrangling and back-to-basics folk. It’s a bit uneven, granted, but seeing a player like Vile put his various guitars through their paces warrants a bit of variety.