Flying solo at gigs is nothing new to me. As a reviewer – and as a music fan – I’ve been to more than my fair share of gigs unaccompanied. Sometimes, as is the case with tonight’s Kurt Vile performance, there just isn’t room for a +1 on the ticket and that’s never been a problem. Until now. Surrounded by groups of friends and families on the grass at Melbourne Zoo I feel conspicuously alone, and it’s killing the vibe.

As Mick Turner of the Dirty Three bangs out a solo set of instrumentals, I plant myself at the edge of the crowd. My vantage point isn’t great, it’s a weird angle, but with a speaker pointed right at me I can hear Turner effortlessly juggling guitar, keys and a drum/sample pad, creating some beautiful layers that wash over the crowd.

Like Thursday night’s crowd, attention for the support seems entirely optional and it’s easier to ignore an instrumental act. It feels like background score, and I’m not the only one with my eyes fixed on my phone. As he finishes the set it seems the crowd suddenly realise and the applause picks up. “Kurt Vile will be on shortly” says Turner, to minimal reaction. I glance over and catch myself sulking in the background of someone’s group selfie.

Kurt takes the stage and opens up with ‘Feel My Pain’ and the crowd is suddenly captivated. Vile’s guitar is beautiful as he intricately plucks the strings, before laying down his colourfully blunt lyrics in his signature, slacker drawl. It’s my first experience with Kurt Vile, and within the opening few songs he’s already starting to lift my mood, somewhat ironic given the lyrical content. After song three he switches on a drum loop and plays a more upbeat number that goes down a treat.

The crowd get excited for the title track of Vile’s 2013 record, Wakin’ on a Pretty Day, and it’s kind of bizarre to see parents dancing with kids in arms to such a morose piece of music. It’s absolutely wonderful though and I’m finding myself getting really into it. The songwriting is just incredible and it is really emphasised by the seemingly simple delivery. Kurt picks up a banjo for ‘Nicotine Blues’ and as he plucks away, a few in the crowd start clapping along. “Don’t clap,” says Kurt and the crowd comply, laughing. My mood has lifted and, while I’m still near a lot of groups, I notice that I’m not the only party of one here tonight and that’s a nice realisation.

That said, I don’t know how comfortable I’d be trying this again. Does anyone want to join me on Saturday for The Specials?

Wes Fahey

Photo by Ian Laidlaw

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