Once upon a time, a sandwich shop opened on Morrison St. in a town named Portland, Oregon. Serving sandwiches about the size of my fist for close to $10 each (filled with pork belly, roast beef, pulled pork, etc), Bunk became the cause célèbre in this little town, attracting hipsters by the score to sample its creations, plunked down on a piece of brown paper with a handful of chips. People from the East Coast scoffed but it didn’t stop them from scarfing down these overpriced, yet delicious sandwiches. So what does a sandwich shop with lines down the block do next? They open a bar. The Bunk Bar, to be specific.
Nestled in Portland’s industrial district, next to the train tracks, the tiny Bunk Bar not only serves drinks and those hallowed sandwiches but also attracts primo indie talent to play on its small stage. Just take a look at upcoming acts- Times New Viking and Damon & Naomi are nothing to sniff at. The people at Bunk Bar know how to drum up publicity, bringing in acts and stuffing them, like the meat in their sandwiches, into a space a quarter of the size they would normally play, hence the packed to the gills crowd for the Kurt Vile show. It’s all about supply and demand, folks, and you economists can take a simple lesson from the Bunk Bar people.
Let’s take a look around this room. Oh look, there’s Alela Diane. Members of the Fleet Foxes and Blitzen Trapper hobnob in the shady corners near the booths. A mural of Harry Dean Stanton circa Paris, Texas stretches across one entire wall. The place just seethes cool. So what the hell am I bitching about and what about the fucking music?
Somehow I get the feeling that Bunk Bar is a place where people go to socialize rather than listen to music. Throughout Vile’s set, people shouted at one another and jostled their way to the bar and back. Despite the presence of a band and cranking up all his songs, Vile seemed less the main attraction and more the house band while the crowd got its drink on. Also, an unfortunately placed pole restricted viewing for those of us on the right side of the room. I heard the dude next to me say he was watching the show via an overhead mirror since he couldn’t see, uh, bunk.
But yes, Vile rocked his songs out, making them louder and more dynamic than the recorded versions. With his hair covering his face, Vile turned songs such as “Jesus Fever” and “On Tour” into fiery progressions of the more stately incarnations from Smoke Ring for My Halo, punched up and made robust by his backing bad. Too bad people were too busy scurrying out for a smoke or across to the bar to care. I didn’t see anyone eating any sandwiches.
While he drenched “Ghost Town” with feedback, it was his cover of Bruce Springsteen’s “Downbound Train” that surprised me the most, a scorching take on that Born in the U.S.A. song. Unfortunately, the audience’s fuckery continued when Vile asked for “requests,” met with the requisite “Freebird” and then shouts of “Flyers,” recognizing the singer’s hometown of Philadelphia.
The band left the stage and Vile did a solo version of “Peeping Tomboy,” one I wished I could hear better and catch the fragile lyrics. After doing a solo version of “He’s Alright,” the band returned for one more extended freak-out before breaking for an encore.
Vile returned once more, solo again, to play “Classic Rock in Spring” and “In My Time.” The set lasted about 90 minutes. When he finished playing, people barely applauded and then dispersed like nothing had really happened and they had nowhere really to go. Vile even said he would be hanging out if people wanted to chat after but I doubt anyone there really cared.