“Let’s hear it for Lushes, they were great. My crew, they’re ok. My band, they’re fine too.” Kurt Vile’s introductory role call withstood the drama of a late drop out; Alabama songwriter Waxahatchee was a pre-tour cancellation after health problems. Her replacement was Brooklyn based Lushes, making their first appearance in the UK.
A Lush was a prominent term for an 18th Century low-life defined as “a heavy drinker, especially a habitual one,” where one’s degeneration into a lush – here, two Lushes – was less socially acceptable than it would be nowadays for a white indie band to reappropriate a Kanye West song. The two-piece came on stage fashionably late, seeming to tie in with the Anson Rooms rhetoric of “we’ll open at 7 and start when more people than just Jeff are in the room.” James Ardery (vocals/ guitar/ synth) looked like the result of a cutting-edge punch-up between Thurston Moore and Foxygen, whereas Joel Myers on drums and SPD-SX seemed to have just recently left the set of a “fragrance for men” advert – the kind where you expected to watch him lie back and be fed grapes by a young man fanning him with a big leaf, rather than prove himself to be a skilled drummer. Perhaps the only requirement to tour with Vile is to possess long hair.
[THEY] LOOKED LIKE THE RESULT OF A CUTTING-EDGE PUNCH-UP BETWEEN THURSTON MOORE AND FOXYGEN
Another patron of the chilled out California-locks was the Bristol student next to me; an unshowered man who had spent the last hour playing Snake on his Nokia. As Lushes enter with a yell of “yeah drink more beer!”, he frowns and says he wished it was Waxahatchee. Five minutes of Amsterdam fuelled red lighting and intense, unwavering stares later, Lushes had everyone’s attention. It didn’t feel like a support set; Myers flicked through instrumental sections, shining between jazz and shoegaze with unnerving professionalism. An experimental ode to rush hour, ‘Traffic’ stood out live with a rhythm section akin to Antonio Sánchez’s score of Birdman. The duo were fixated on distortion, Ardery displaying a real (high or) showmanship, adorning a Kreamy ‘Lectric Santa sweatshirt, playing with pedals, ending with an animated experimental track, somewhere between Peace’s Delicious 1998 remix and Cosmo Sheldrake vocal looping: a very nasal “nimnimnimno” atop a blue strobe.
Vile performs with an extremely conscious awkwardness, swooning and jolting through every song
I could have left then happily, as – it seems – agreed the student from Bristol. But on strides Kurt Vile, having recently dropped his fifth studio album b’lieve i’m goin down, seemingly filled with the confidence of someone who’s gaining a real momentum in various alt. rock circuits. He starts off smiling, playing his aptly named ‘On Tour’ from 2011’s Smoke Ring For My Halo. The track remained as one of the only odes to what many consider his finest collection of work, fresh from his (friendly) disassociations with The War On Drugs. Vile performs with an extremely conscious awkwardness, swooning and jolting through every song and interaction alongside a minimal band, where he is never not the focus. He switches guitars every song, from electric to acoustic to banjo – the sound man close on scene each time, nodding through the occasional sound glitch and mixing error. ‘Freak Train’ was played through two times too many decibels, and seminal epic track ‘Wakin on a Pretty Day’ – the staple of any Vile set – was played for the first three minutes with a broken string.
Standout tracks were two of the catchiest on his latest release, ‘Dust Bunnies’ and ‘Pretty Pimpin’, while the band parted to leave Vile solo for ‘Stand Inside’, the most sombrely cutting track of the night, crooning the emotionally exhausting love ballad: “We gonna live in a house together with me on the couch and my guitar, singing “Oh my god I love you, I love you”,” like a modern day Much Ado About Nothing Benedick. (The crowd’s potential to be silenced was so silent that there was no room left with which to be silent.) The Cali-rock, desert rock warbler performed an 85 minute set containing some of this year’s best releases, and his cool ethos did them more justice.