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A wandering minstrel needs to up charisma levels


 Kurt Vile

Kurt Vile

Kurt Vile

I CAN see the top of Kurt Vile's head. I think there's a lamp resting beside him, along with a second guitar.

Now, unless the chap takes to his feet, or I find a more suitable spot, we're not going to get any better than that. Why did the Philadelphia music maker have to sit down, eh?

A lo-fi, cult American hero, Vile is in town for two gigs at Whelan's, and he usually has a backing band with him (the Violators). Unfortunately, this time, he's by himself. A founding member of Philly rock outfit The War on Drugs, the 34-year-old went his own way in 2009, settling into a solo career that has seen him release five albums – the latest of which, Wakin on a Pretty Daze, landed last April.

Some call it Americana. Well, it's sleepy stuff, that's for sure, and Vile's frivolous, care-free vocal is a weird match for his exquisite guitar playing. The latter will help lift those meandering, indie folk numbers from the obscure. But only just. "I love this club," he says from his stool. Those looking for a little more interaction from Vile will be sorely disappointed.

It's not that the he isn't capable of greatness. On Laughing Stock, he creates a gorgeous racket with his instrument, and though that drowsy, monotonous voice of his tends to grate, there are times, too, when Vile stops reaching for Dylan and lets loose. The enchanting He's Alright tells us he can write a catchy hit. Might it be that Vile is a tad too cool for school? Absolutely. If he was any more laid back, he'd fall off the bloody stage.

The problem is that Vile displays zero charisma, and it's not enough for us to bask in the joy of his skills with a six-string (he's also quite handy with a banjo).

Vile's got no stage presence, and the mind wanders whenever he sets off on another sprawling acoustic venture. At least he's got a sense of humour.

Towards the end, he sings of a girl who "jump-starts my cables". Perhaps she should have accompanied him on tour.