Monday, September 5, 2016

Kurt Vile: Performer or Artist?

Of course, I have written about Kurt Vile's song, Pretty Pimpin' before. I did so because I like the vibe of it, and of course there's that very catchy finger picking pattern which embodies the entire song.

And it is difficult to play. Or it can be.

From time to time I do a cover here and there outside of playing around with my own music. And this song has given me a bit of trouble—although I haven't spent a lot of time trying to practice it. In any event, most of the time when I do a cover I try to put my own slant on it anyway. I think that's the creative side of me. Or at least that's what I like to try to tell myself.

Perhaps it's just a guise for the fact that I am not all that great of a guitar player. Or if I like to tease myself I can always just simply say I'm like Jimi Hendrix who was known as an improvisational guitar player. That is, Jimi Hendrix never played his own music the same way twice. When he performed one of his songs he improvised. Of course he was still in keeping with the basic structure and nature of whatever song he was playing. But if you listened to three performances of say, All Along The Watchtower back to back against the studio recording, to the trained ear (and perhaps even to the untrained ear) you'd notice very subtle but notable differences in how each of the signature riffs and basis melodies are played.

When I think of Kurt Vile, who is an amazing songwriter by the way, I am always reminded of the pure essence of what makes indie music so great. It is always about the trueness of the music, and the raw, low-fi nature of it all. If you want perfection, which is really just computer generated perfection these days by the way, all you have to do is turn on your radio and you'll find plenty of that to go around. Indie music strives for something else, and quite frankly what the result of that is may not be perfection as it is commonly defined. But it is perfection nonetheless in and of itself.

The reason I bring this up is because of that very song which so captured my attention and made me a fan of the music of Kurt Vile, and a YouTube video of a live performance of this song which did not seem to go all too well for him. I've seen other "live" videos of performances of this song, but few of which appear to be, well, let's just go ahead and say it.


There is one that stands out for me which he did for a KEXP Live Event which is clearly played live with his backing band. Perhaps by the time he did this performance he had been more practiced on the song. It's a great performance by the way, and of this song probably one of the best live performances of it that I have seen.


Nope. There are noticeable misses and pauses when it comes to Kurt's parts. But as I said before, perfection is something achieved in the studio. It's not necessarily the heart of indie music, and when it comes to performances I much prefer to hear subtle differences in the live version of a song than total perfection. It makes that performance unique and special in its own right. And it also does something else for me and for the avid listener of indie music.

It makes the performer real.

Kurt Vile has said in interviews that he wants his music to sound like a guy who is sitting at home on his couch just playing around on his guitar. And when you think of great performances that is exactly what you get from it.

Remember that amazing performance by Aaron Lewis doing the Pearl Jam song, Black? It's as raw as can be, certainly perfection, but not perfect. What Aaron Lewis did with this song was to make it his own, and seems most of the time I hear this song played on the radio it happens to be his version which gets played the most.

There's a reason for this.

So, the Kurt Vile performance of Pretty Pimpin' on YouTube he did for 909 Studio is tough for some to swallow if you read through some of the comments. The timing is off, the singing is off, and of course he more than misses a couple of changes throughout the song. The word struggling certainly comes to mind of this performance.

But, does that matter when all is said and done? I don't think so because of exactly what I said earlier about perfection, and when you consider that Kurt Vile is an artist before he is a performer, and when it comes to indie music I think that's all you really need to worry about being.

Let's be real in talking about music in general, shall we? You can think back to great songwriters like Neil Young or Bob Dylan for example. Neil could barely sing if I am being real here, but he wrote great songs that not only were easy to listen to even if Young was often times singing off key, but that one could identify with on a level entirely separate from what was heard on the radio.

You felt like Neil was sitting right in your own living room, perhaps on your couch, just doing his thing, playing his music...

For you. Just for you.

A live performance by Neil Young to this day captures scores of fans to rush to buy tickets, and he can still fill an auditorium despite his lack of perfection in a performance. Because when you go to see Neil Young perform what you get from it is the distinct feeling that no one else is around you in the concert hall. It's just you, perhaps a couple of friends, and Neil Young. You feel like the performance is a personal one, tailor made just for you. And that's what music should be. That's what performing live should be. Raw. Imperfect. But yet, perfect.

And when it comes to anything creative, it is easy to be a critic. It is easy to find fault in whatever you can find. And people do. People often do. I don't take away the same thoughts on any performance, and I spend a lot of time listening to other indie bands, and as well, some of the very real and raw talent that exists in the underground music world that largely exists these days on places like YouTube.

There are covers galore, and most of them while not perfect, are absolutely amazing things to listen to despite any lack of perfection in the performance.

Regarding the performance of Kurt Vile's Pretty Pimpin' I also wonder when he did this performance, how many times had be actually played it live before?

I said before that I also write my own music. But I have never played any of them live. And even after I write them and record them, I almost never play them again with some exception. I have played Pink Flamingoes many times. I have played 102 Idle Stones a few times, but not necessarily ever in their entirety. Could I play any of my songs live? Sure. If I practiced them for the intent to play live I could.

But again when it comes to any indie music, when it comes to any indie artist, let's keep that word in mind as we listen and enjoy the art. Artist. Great songs are created not out of entirely their performance, but in their creation. And when it comes to music in general, there is also that thought that making music and songs is simply good fun. In the case of indie music in general, the music is for the artist who wants to create and share, but it's not necessarily for the love of fame or money. It's not pop music which is frankly generic and churned out to act like an ATM machine for the writers, singers, and music executives that put it out. Taylor Swift is nice. So is Maroon 5. But when you listen to songs from these artists it's not as special or as unique as what you get from indie artists like Kurt Vile. Like Belle and Sebastian. Like MGMT. It's not the same kind of vibe in any live performance as you got when you went to a Neil Young concert, or went to sit down and listen to Aaron Lewis play Black. And it's not the same vibe as those who sat down to listen to Kurt Vile struggle through his own song Pretty Pimpin' during the 909 Studio event.

Did he have fun? I think he did. Is Kurt Vile having fun in his career as a musician? I think he is. Just like I had fun putting together my own Pink Flamingoes album or releasing my current single, All You Are. Or the fun I had recording my own version of a Peter Gabriel song Sledgehammer which I also did a little video for.

Personally I am happy that we have anything from Kurt Vile out there for us to enjoy. And again, while I have never performed live, nor have I ever jammed with a backing band, if I could do it, Kurt Vile would be an interesting guy to sit down with and talk music, and maybe even do a collaboration with.

At the end of the day I don't care whether or not Kurt Vile is a perfect performer. He's as real as anyone can be. He's true to himself and his music. He's got the guts to go out there and play it, and I frankly don't think he cares if it is perfect. It's his. It's genuine. It's not spoon fed computer generated garbage. It's raw. It is, without getting overly redundant here, the real deal pure and simple. It's music the way it was intended to be.

Kurt Vile may not be a perfect performer. But there is no denying he is an artist.

No comments:

Post a Comment