Author: Shaun Soman
Kurt Vile photo by Morgan Winston
As WORT’s Katie Hutchinson (Another Green World) and I speak with Jessica Pratt in The Sylvee’s green room, an unwelcome rumbling from Kurt Vile and the Violators threatens our audio. Although we had initially scheduled a conversation for earlier that day, we pushed back our interview to after Pratt’s revelatory – albeit truncated – performance, which spellbound those of us gathered near the front. Even as late-comers sauntered into the venue and conversed in not-so-hushed voices, Pratt’s controlled trilling and deftly plucked nylon strings felt almost ubiquitous for thirty minutes, her brilliance untarnished despite the crowd’s audial intrusion. Now, Vile’s music, having simultaneously begun with our recording, permeates the venue’s “industrial-chic” skeleton, causing me internal anguish. Can we please just listen to Pratt for a moment without interruption?
Some forty minutes later, after discussing her upcoming album’s cover art, her releasing (and editing) her first official video, and the “Big Three” of her Western zodiac birth chart, Pratt signs a cassette tape of On Your Own Love Again, her sophomore release, and takes a mirror selfie with us. As the dream haze dissipates, Katie and I pass multi-instrumentalist Matthew McDermott, who offers a few kind words and a gentle smile. McDermott, a triple Virgo who endearingly lip-synced nearly every lyric during Pratt’s set, heralds our return to the material realm. Unfortunately, something banal await us.
Jessica Pratt photo by Morgan Winston
Kurt Vile is kitsch. His latest album, Bottle It In, maintains the Philadelphian’s contrived “goes-with-the-flow outlaw” getup, its unwieldy and emotionally flat tracks spanning a foreboding (and utterly insufferable) seventy-eight minutes. The record’s artificially-worn sleeve is appropriate, then, insofar as it implies a hypothetical owner’s lack of concern for or attention to Vile’s latest uninspired effort.
“Some might be callin’ me a bum, but I’m still out here havin’ fun,” Vile croons on Bottle It In’s “Rollin’ With The Flow,” re-hashing a bachelor trope that provokes simmering disgust in this critical moment. Even when Vile introduced “Puppet To The Man” as a “political” song, his proclamation felt hollow. Although one may give kudos to Vile for partnering with PLUS1 to donate $1 from every ticket to the ACLU, his music felt anthemic of a white male body politic within the context of a boozed-out crowd. Having attended Washington and Lee University, one of the country’s “Greek-est” (and whitest) colleges, I reeled as the writhing mass of swing-dancing flesh paralleled my alma maters’ constant bacchanal. While one may rightly point out that this critique is targeted at certain members of the evening’s audience rather than at Vile, the pseudo-cowboy himself did little of positive note.
Revisiting Vile’s excessive, mud-caked setlist, the mind recoils. How anyone managed to withstand the poorly-sequenced, twenty-two-minute-long onslaught of “Bassackwards,” a song featuring vapid lyricism and indulgent guitarwork that stays far past its welcome, the passable-yet-still-lengthy “I’m an Outlaw,” and the lazily meandering “Check Baby” is beyond comprehension. As with any mixtape or album, a concert should not merely be a collection of songs, but rather a curated aesthetic experience whose ebbs and flows precisely occur at the “right” moments – whatever those may be. Apart from Pratt, this night offered little in the way of right moments as Vile – who persistently changed shirts and guitars to comedic effect – bludgeoned audiences with a mediocre set (or, perhaps it was just one song) before rushing through “Pretty Pimpin,” his one unambiguously good song. C’est la vie.
While I most decidedly was not “hurtin’ for the Kurtin’” tonight, one did find brilliance incarnate buried underneath the Violators’ muck. Jessica Pratt was the modest zenith to Kurt Vile’s decadent nadir; for each botched attempt by one of Vile’s copy-paste guitarists to play behind their back, Pratt offered mesmerizing plucking, an unadorned voice, and – at times – McDermott’s simple flourishes. This set, perhaps the most enchanting thirty-minute performance The Sylvee has seen during its brief tenure thus far, provided a much-needed antidote to Vile’s performative manspreading. Even as some audience members slighted Pratt with their inattentive clamor, her talent was manifest. Having stood truly enrapt and marveling at the veritable aura surrounding Pratt, it is without hesitation that I believe Quiet Signs will be one of 2019’s best albums. Hopefully, Pratt will grace Madison with her presence as a headlining act in the near future.
Our complete interview with Jessica Pratt will premiere on Another Green World on January 1st and can be found on the Anarchist Brunch SoundCloud following the broadcast.
Kurt Vile’s complete setlist was as follows:
1. Loading Zones (Bottle It In)
2. Jesus Fever (Smoke Ring for My Halo)
3. Bassackwards (Bottle It In)
4. I’m an Outlaw (b’lieve i’m goin down…)
5. Check Baby (Bottle It In)
6. Girl Called Alex (Wakin On A Pretty Daze)
7. Cold Was the Wind (Bottle It In)
8. Runner Ups (Smoke Ring for My Halo)
9. Heart Attack (Childish Prodigy)
10. Yeah Bones (Bottle It In)
11. Wakin on a Pretty Day (Wakin On A Pretty Daze)
12. KV Crimes (Wakin On A Pretty Daze)
13. Skinny Mini (Bottle It In)
14. Wild Imagination (b’lieve i’m goin down…)
15. Pretty Pimpin (b’lieve i’m goin down…)
16. Puppet to the Man (Smoke Ring for My Halo)
17. Baby’s Arms (Smoke Ring for My Halo)