“I like this place. This place is cool. It’s cooler than the other place we played,” Kurt Vile remarked midway through his laid-back show Friday night at Turner Hall Ballroom.

It’s one of the only things the lackadaisical Philadelphian songwriter said between songs, other than his familiar yelp or “yeeeah,” but that one comment said a lot about his laconic folk-rock aesthetic. The show was Vile’s second in Milwaukee. He first came to town in 2016 behind B’lieve I’m Goin Down…, where he played at one of the city’s grandest venues, the Pabst Theater. The mood couldn’t help but feel lighter and more relaxed this time around, as Vile seemed more comfortable playing underneath a weathered ceiling than a gigantic, graceful chandelier.

The less-refined interior of Turner Hall Ballroom certainly played-up Vile’s devil-may-care attitude. Rather than blow through his now-quite-impressive catalog, Vile slowed down the pace and kept things at half-speed for much of Friday night, which turned out to be a slick move. There’s so much more room to mess around, and Vile likes to mess around on stage. Every solo sounded looser and more effective, every unusual lyrical cadence felt transformative, and every shout or howl into the microphone was revelatory.

For such a mellow dude—he’d shake his head back and forth to keep his long, mussed-up hair out of his eyes every once in a while—Vile approached the night with such precision and polish. He switched out his guitar with ease for every song, and yet the show flowed seamlessly. (In other words, the constant tinkering didn’t harsh anyone’s vibe.) And the different accompaniments—he brought out a banjo for the plucky “I’m An Outlaw”—helped keep the show sounding fresh.

Many of the songs came from Vile’s latest record, Bottle It In, a sprawling affair that tracks just under 80 minutes, his longest album to date. But rather than delve head-first into that record, Vile slyly interweaved the new stuff with the older cuts. He opened with Bottle It In single, “Loading Zones,” which details a double-parking desperado moving around the city from illegal spot to illegal spot, then looked back to Smoke Ring For My Halo’s “Jesus Fever” and then returned again to the new album’s whirling nine-minute track “Backasswards,” a title which sounds less silly after you felt the emotional weight of the lyrics. The interlacing showed that there was connective tissue between the new and older material, as these tracks played well off each other.

It was an entrancing, introspective, and kind of low-key performance, so it made sense that Vile didn’t end with a big, chugging epic like “Freak Train” or a catchy, up-tempo song like “Pretty Pimpin’” (which he played to open the encore). Rather, he stood on stage clutching an acoustic guitar and closed with the serene and moving love song “Baby Arms,” a soft and passionate coda to a night that wouldn’t impress you with its big gaudy set pieces, but instead, its subtle and—maybe—weathered surroundings.

About The Author

Kevin Mueller
Contributor

Kevin Mueller is a local freelance writer. Despite whatever bullshit reason he gives, he actually supports Tottenham Hotspur because of Ted Lasso, a fictional American football coach with no understanding of the differences in the sport who's brought over to head the team.

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