Check out our full gallery of Courtney Barnett @ Commodore Ballroom in Vancouver
The cheerful anticipation for Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett was palpable in the Commodore Ballroom on Tuesday, an unusually warm, summery April evening.
Openers Toronto indie-pop quintet Alvvays were a good fit for the balmy night, and they set the bar high. Alvvays plays reverb-drenched, dusty, dreamy “jangle pop” with strong melodies; their closing song “Archie, Marry Me” carries an aching, soaring chorus that begged to be sung along to.
Courtney Barnett took to the stage to eager applause. Barnett, who released her debut album Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit just last year, arrived in Vancouver on waves of critical acclaim. She played a handful of sold-out West Coast concerts this week, continuing the momentum between weekends at Coachella. To the point – Barnett deserves all the accolades she has been given. Playing with bassist Bones Sloane and drummer Dave Mudie (collectively the CB3), Barnet stood to one side of the stage. She wore a black t-shirt, skinny jeans, and a black trucker hat, and played her left-handed electric guitar without a pick. She kept the mic slightly higher than necessary, leaning up to it to deliver her lyrics like she was melting in rock n’ roll surrender. For someone clearly prone to shyness and even anxiety attacks (listen to the brilliant “Avant Gardener”) Barnett delivers her music with real conviction. Sloane and Mudie were not left behind, either – both are fine musicians capable of creating blistering, well- crafted walls of sound and enjoying the ride, as well. Mudie played bass with a big grin on his face for the whole evening; he was a joy to watch.
Barnett’s lyrics are phenomenal, and feel photographic – observant depictions of ordinary events seen through revealing angles, leading to extraordinary insights. Her phrasing is unique and rewarding; the slow beginning of “Kim’s Caravan” showcased her introspective drawl beautifully. Barnett’s lyrics shine clearly on her album, as well as in live performance although they occasionally are harder to hear. What becomes more apparent in live performance is how loud the CB3 can be; the fantastic, sprawling “Small Poppies” washed over the crowd with bluesy, heavy guitar arrangements and intense vocals on the outro, and prompted cheers as it finished. I expected to be impressed by Barnett’s poetic lyrics, phrasing, and solo guitar, but I was happily surprised to also find her band dynamic a strong asset.
The gorgeous “Depreston” was a highlight, with its simple, sweet melodic guitar slides and poignant lyrics about attending an open house in a dreary neighbourhood and seeing “the handrail in the shower/ A collection of those canisters for coffee, tea, and flour/ And a photo of a young man in a van in Vietnam.” The crowd sang along as Barnett repeated, “If you’ve got a spare half a million/ You could knock it down and start rebuilding.” Other highlights included her grungy, frenzied performance of “Pedestrian At Best” (with shouted lyrics responding to her rise in notoriety “Give me all your money and I’ll make some origami, honey”) and final song “Avant Gardener,” where she seemed at her most comfortable and playful.
Barnett’s onstage banter was sparse and a bit offbeat but in line with her quirky brand of deadpan humour. After noting that she didn’t know how to make small talk, but that she supposed she needed to try, Barnett started the evening off with a wry “You’re the best crowd ever, in the world.” Yet as the night progressed Barnett seemed genuinely moved by the warm, eager response from the crowd and her later observation of “this will be one of my favourite shows” felt earnest.
After a great year critically, Barnett feels on the cusp of something big. To quote her, “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party,” but I would add that for your own sake – don’t miss out. It’s just getting started, and you’ll want to be there.
An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York)
Out of the Woodwork
Three Packs A Day
Pedestrian At Best
Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party
Pickles From the Jar