When word got out that Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile, two of the strongest songwriters working today, were making a record together, it sounded like a dream team-up.
What looks good on paper doesn’t always work in real life, as countless supergroups have shown. But thankfully, Courtney and Kurt’s collaboration turned out both an enjoyable record and a solid, albeit skewed, performance at the Palace.
Jen Cloher opened the show with a short but engaging solo acoustic set. Cloher, who is also Barnett’s partner, waxed poetic between songs about Jim Morrison and the difficulties of your significant other being on the road.
Barnett and Vile came on around nine, both wearing plaid shirts and looking a bit like brother and sister. Their set mainly featured songs off their recently released Lotta Sea Lice, on which they cover one another’s songs and duet on a few originals.
The pair had a real chemistry, at times generating a Nancy Sinatra/Lee Greenwood vibe, and Vile’s laid-back crowd work and general goofballery cracked up Barnett more than once. She seemed deeply enamored of him as he dedicated a song in jest to Bob Dylan (playing just down the road at the Xcel) and when he shouted, “Go Twins!” then readily admitted he doesn’t watch sports. Vile’s cavalier attitude contrasts nicely with his intimate music, a refreshing trait in an indie rock world that often takes itself too seriously.
Barnett seemed willing to let Vile upstage her. Maybe he just has a bigger onstage personality, or maybe this was an effort to meet in the middle musically. It was a pretty chill show, which is not to say it was a bad—far from it, in fact. But what was so striking about Barnett’s First Avenue performance this past spring was the level of energy she puts into her live act, which is at times much more frenetic than her studio recordings. This was a more measured performance. Even Barnett’s guitar and vocals seemed to be mixed lower than Vile’s.
Barnett did get the closer, though, with “Avant Gardener” rounding out an encore that also included a cover of Gillian Welch’s “Elvis Presley Blues” and Vile’s “Pretty Pimpin,” which surely delighted the woman who’d been screaming the song’s title for the past 20 minutes. It’s worth noting the retrospective strangeness of it all: Seeing two great individual acts do what was mostly a cover show while artist being covered was present. Definitely odd when you break it down, and although it worked just fine, part of me wishes we’d got to see them do more of their own stuff. There’s always the next tour.
Critic’s bias: Courtney Barnett is my favorite current lyricist, and I will always be appalled that Meghan Trainor won Best New Artist over her at the Grammys. Man the Grammys are shit.
The crowd: For some reason my very accurate and in no way incendiary description of the last Courtney Barnett crowd in the Twin Cities turned into a to-do, so here’s my description for this show: There were various human people. No further comment.
Random notebook dump: I need to know what is wrong with people that makes them record entire songs, sometimes back-to-back, on their cell phones instead of just enjoying the show for which they paid good money. And what do they do with the video? Do they ever watch it again? Do they edit it for some final purpose? Do they show it to people? This really keeps me up at night. Please comment below with whatever childhood trauma caused you to behave this way.
Notes on the venue: The Palace was the perfect venue for this act. Not only were high ceiling and theater stylings the ideal setting for this music, but the Palace’s capacity allowed for an audience size befitting the talent present. Though any locale in Shelbyville should be praised reluctantly and with an air of Minneapolitan superiority, it’s hard not to heap praise on the Palace.