The Riverbank Palais is proving to be a jewel in this year’s Adelaide Festival crown, hosting a diverse range of performances in a unique space. The venue was used to great effect on Tuesday evening for Kurt Vile’s solo show, providing fantastic atmospherics, as the idiosyncratic and talented troubadour played in front the magical moonlit vista on a balmy night.

Kurt Vile2It was also quite a coup for the Festival to secure the artist, who could easily have been playing WOMADelaide or found himself in some sweaty mirrored tent a kilometre to the east.

The great appeal of Vile’s work is that there’s something authentic and unforced about the way he plays; doing things his own way, it feels endearingly genuine. His phrasing, both lyrically and musically, consistently surprises, never quite going the direction you expect.

There’s also a gentle shyness about his performance. There weren’t many words for the audience in the first half of the set, while in the second half he gave a little more, after the connection was built.  Throughout the show, however, it was evident just how much he gives in performance; the music lives through the artist and, because of this, it was impossible not to be engaged.

Kurt Vile3Performing solo is a beautifully honest way to present music, but it does come with some challenges. At times in the show, the use of samples and simple backing material to embellish the songs did not always blend perfectly, and many of the best moments came when it was just Vile’s guitar and voice.

In fact, one of the show’s real strengths was in highlighting just how brilliant a guitarist he is; the times he let loose on the instrument were some of the best of the night, mining a variety of sounds from his acoustic guitar. It was also a nice moment when the versatile Vile switched over to banjo.

The crowd were appreciative throughout the evening, particularly enthusiastic about the early appearance of ‘Pretty Pimpin’ and ‘Wakin on a Pretty Day’, the latter working a treat in stripped down mode. The setlist was a well-constructed mix of his material, pleasing for fans and newcomers alike.

Kurt Vile is a unique talent whose performance makes a fine contribution to this Festival. He plays the Palais for a second and final show this evening at 8pm with details here.

Reviewed by Matthew Trainor

Pictures by Lauren McAleer