Courtney Barnett @ O2 Academy, 19th November 2018

Fellow Australian musician, Laura Jean, is the support act for Barnett’s tour of the U.K. which is an interesting choice as musically they are very different. Laura Jean is a lone figure with an Kuwai X120 and a saxophone for company with which she produces nostalgic low-key pop. Her latest album, Devotion, is a reflective coming of age piece of work that delivers Laura Jean’s folk lyric writing with an 80s backbeat which has moments of utter brilliance with songs like Ricky that encapsulate an essence of forlorn teenage years.  A version of Cliff Richard’s Wired For Sound makes a surprising appearance but illustrates Laura Jean’s competency at altering the upbeat sound for something more eerily ethereal via the soft strength of her voice, one which reminds me of Elizabeth Fraser or Julianne Regan. Certainly her ability for using samples and overlaying saxophone parts is innovative and yet watching her live I’m not wholeheartedly convinced.  However, when writing this review I have put the album on and I am more drawn to it which suggests the sparseness of the performance has intrigued me enough to make me explore further. 

Enveloped in red light, Courtney Barnett opens the proceedings with the sultry Hopelessness, the first track from Tell Me How You Really Feel, and it is evident this woman is preparing us for an epic set.  The crescendo towards the end of the song allows for distortion to resonate throughout the venue and gives us an inkling of the guitar playing that is to follow as the band seamlessly move into City Looks Pretty.  Barnett’s vocal delivery has changed over the past few years, moving away from the part spoken drawl towards more powerful singing which is evidenced in the new album, yet she maintains her laid back constitution enhanced by the accenting of words in an unusual fashion. Returning back to her earlier work, sees Avant Gardener make an appearance, a fascinating song about an asthma attack which allows Barnett to pull some awesome poses as she uses her guitar to create squeals before resuming the ambulant strumming. 

The backdrop is ruched material with an array of large lamps in an arch behind the four piece band, whilst the large number of Fender amps are adorned with a simple string of fairy lights none of which detract from the musician. In addition, the lighting used complements each song, noticeably the use of strobes during the college indie rock number Nameless, Faceless where the chorus is embellished by the chaos produced by the lights. There is a short interlude as Katie Harkin leaves the keyboards for a guitar and the music moves from a nod to The Replacements as Barnett offers a full on salute to Nirvana with I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch. The raucous energy unleashed on the stage powers through with the vigorous drumming of Dave Mudie that heightens the clout delivered by Barnett’s discordant guitar as she lurches around the space engrossed in the sound. Courtney chooses to play a new song that she wrote in New York called Small Talk that harnesses the spirit of Lou Reed at a slightly faster tempo. As with most gigs when a barely heard new track is played, the audience listen attentively but it doesn’t receive the appreciation that the previous music has but this dip is short-lived. Depreston has most of the onlookers singing the refrain bringing a wry smile to Courtney Barnett’s face, whilst the depth to her guitar sound is even more prominent due to the mellow nature of the song. It is clear that the band have been performing vast amounts as the vocal harmonies provide a richness found in the recordings and the precise timings and ability to read Barnett’s musical leadership are most noticeable with Are You Looking After Yourself?

Laura Jean returns to the stage for a cover of Streets Of Your Town by The Go-Betweens where she and Courtney alternate lead vocals and Laura Jean adds a saxophone solo towards the end of the quirky pop ditty. A more powerful version of Charity is dedicated “to anyone who has been having a shit time recently or now” returns the set to the clamorous vibe, ending the main performance with Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party. The first song of the encore is a Gillian Welch cover, Everything Is Free, that sees Barnett return to the stage on her own with a white spotlight bringing her out of the darkness. The minimal instrumentation demonstrates the skill she has for utilising dynamics to the fullest both vocally and through her use of the guitar, resulting in an utterly attentive audience. The highlight of the evening is Anonymous Club with the sombre bass line of Bones Sloane and the swirling effects from the keyboards and guitar a truly absorbing rendition that fades to nothingness before the swell of sound as the song returns with the repetition of “just you and me”.  The ambient atmosphere that has been so intelligently made is destroyed with the force of a sledge hammer as Pedestrian At Best is given as the final offering of the evening. 

The vibrant energy of Courtney Barnett is infectious and inspiring. Her low key approach to performance, both in her attire and jumping off the stage to hand out set lists to those at the front, is refreshingly reminiscent of the early 90s rock scene whilst her lyric writing is beautifully truthful producing an unquestionable authenticity.  The woman is phenomenal!

Reviewer: Toni Woodward

Image provided by PR.

About Author

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *