Kurt Vile Concert Review: The Magician Enchants Boston Crowds


“Been on the road for three years, just to get here, just to bring it back to Boston,” indie rocker Kurt Vile said as he returned to the stage for an encore at the Royale Nightclub in Boston on Oct. 30.

Vile lived in Boston for two years. In an interview with D’Addario and Co., he shared that in the early 2000s, “I was up in Boston where I didn’t really know anybody. I worked this crappy warehouse job and then I’d go home and just get zoned out and just play.” His connection to Boston fostered an intimate concert experience. Throughout the Royale show, he chatted with the crowd, asking people how they were doing, what they were dressing up as for Halloween (someone in the crowd yelled “you!”), and if an old favorite vinyl store Stereo Jack’s was still around (according to a helpful audience member, it is now in a new location).

Fans don’t go to a Kurt Vile concert to see impressive stage stunts; they go to be transported by his poetic lyrics and guitar genius. It’s impossible not to smile watching Vile in his element as he leans over his guitar to play incredible solos time and again, his long frizzy hair covering his face. His unique guitar style was formed in part by his experience learning to play music on the banjo. “If guitar was my first instrument, I’d go probably take some lessons and then they’d be like, ‘here are the barre chords,’ and you’re kinda stuck in a box, whereas because I started in open tuning there was not those walls,” Vile said.

Vile played a mix of songs from his 2022 album “(watch my moves)” alongside long-time fan favorites like “Pretty Pimpin” on multiple guitars colored red, turquoise, orange, and yellow. He chose to incorporate some of his longer songs, including “Wakin On A Pretty Day” from 2013’s “Wakin On A Pretty Daze” and “Skinny Mini” from 2018’s “Bottle It In” into the setlist.



The set for the night had a slightly grungy feeling with the addition of songs like “Loading Zones” and “The Hunchback.” These darker tracks contrasted with the songs from “(watch my moves),” which have an airy feel and depend on a lighter touch of Vile’s deep voice alongside his mellow yet cathartic chord progressions. The crowd enjoyed the mix, yelling for the songs they recognized, and standing with eyes fixed on the guitarist, trying to take in his wicked fingerpicking skills during the longer songs.

Vile is often in conversation with other artists in his music. In “Cool Water,” the second song he played in his encore and one of the most sonically beautiful songs on “(watch my moves),” Vile references early American Western singing group Sons of the Pioneers, who recorded a song of the same name in 1941. He layers in references to other artists who picked up the song during their own musical careers, including Hank Williams and Marty Robbins.


The musical references continued with Vile’s last song of the night, a cover of “Punks in the Beerlight” by the Silver Jews. The finale of his set offered a homage to the band’s founder, the late David Berman. Vile remembered Berman in a 2019 Instagram post where he said, “His music and lyrics and vocals have touched me to this day and are still growing in significance.” He went on to say that he often sings Silver Jews songs to his daughters before they go to bed, and they have learned some of them by heart. Clearly, for Vile, this was an important tribute.

Vile’s Boston fans were happy to have him back. The feeling was mutual — “I should have been here two years ago and I’m pissed,” Vile said. The blissed-out crowd that came to support Vile on Halloween eve made it clear that they would welcome him back anytime.

—Staff writer Lena M. Tinker can be reached at