St James’s Church, Pic­cadil­ly, it’s a beau­ti­ful jew­el of a church designed by Christo­pher Wren, and like sev­er­al Lon­don church­es, moon­lights as a music venue. Noth­ing of the Metal­li­ca vari­ety, obvi­ous­ly. We are here to see Kurt Vile do a solo set which is more in keeping.

Despite its beau­ty, the church’s view­ing expe­ri­ence is only just ade­quate; the crowd mill around, some tak­ing down­stairs pews which have awk­ward­ly placed lights. Some sit on the floor in front of the stage, until a church offi­cial shoos them away. I head up to the bal­cony but despite a front row pew, we have to stand and lean right over to see the stage.

With no fan­fare, Kurt lopes into view, giv­ing us a cheery lit­tle wave before sit­ting down. With no fur­ther ado, he heads straight into his first number.

The set takes in Smoke Ring for my HaloGhost Town, and Walk­ing on a Pret­ty Daze (not, as I was hop­ing Nev­er Run Away). The intros of Kurt’s rich and flu­id fin­ger-pick­ing gui­tar set the scene for the mag­ic of each song, draw­ing you into its world. His vocals are as you expect them to be from his record­ed work, swoopy and dreamy, waver­ing, evoca­tive, and yet assured. The com­plex­i­ty of Jesus Fever is an immac­u­late rendition.

kurt vile sings

Dur­ing my ear­ly teenage years, hair like Kurt’s – long, cen­tre-part­ed and with a degree of frizz, was fair­ly oblig­a­tory for blokes. Some­what like today’s beards. It’s a look I remem­ber with much fond­ness. Kurt uses his hair to hide behind, peek­ing out on occa­sion – he’s not easy to pho­to­graph either. Chat­ting with the audi­ence is also pre­dictably brief, but he does share with us his feel­ing of awe at per­form­ing in such a sacred and spe­cial place.

It’s just unfor­tu­nate that although the church itself wis gift­ed with good acoustics, Kurt’s vocals were muf­fled, and if you did­n’t know the lyrics of his mate­r­i­al before­hand, you would be none the wis­er as to what he was singing about. Since the gig, I’ve viewed videos tak­en from the ground lev­el and the vocals seem clearer.

Pall Jenk­ins is the sup­port act, and he comes back on to do an encore with Kurt, Baby’s Arms from Smoke Ring for my Halo. This unas­sum­ing, sim­ple per­for­mance served to whet the appetite to see Kurt again, next time, with his band.

Kurt Vile, St james church









WHO: Kurt Vile plus support
WHEN: April 12, 2014
WHERE: St James’s Church, Pic­cadil­ly, London
TICKETS: £18 approx

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