Varsity Theater, Minneapolis
Tuesday, June 24, 2014
It seems as if Courtney Barnett blew up before she even hit Minneapolis for the first time. The Australian singer has been selling out shows left and right on her North American tour, and everyone is catching on to how amazingly intense she is. You wouldn't expect to get your face melted by a young woman and her guitar on a Tuesday night, but that ability to shred and her witty lyrics are what sold out the Varsity Theater on a weeknight in Minneapolis.
Barnett turned out be more of a rocker than her album lets on, turning her guitar up and lacing her songs with more tempo in a condensed nine song set -- with one encore -- that left no room for the dreamy song like "Anonymous Club," but still had time for rambling banter with the crowd. She joked about the President being in town and the world's best toilets at the Varsity. Some of those jokes fell flat, and Courtney asked, "Is it because of the accent?"
With her eyes closed and lips pressed close to her mic, Barnett agonizes her life via songs about masturbation and panic attacks. Her growling vocals are a perfect balance for her imposing melodies, and are able to ride over the wailing guitar. What's unexpected is Barnett's beguiling presence. She's not the conventional singer-songwriter, but within her strength there's glimpses of catchy charm.
In Courtney's songs, she pairs punk with the heart of Neil Young in her small three-piece band. Sometimes you can hear traces of Lou Reed in her delivery on songs like "Avant Gardener" and "History Eraser." The resonance of her voice cracking on her wailing, "Ooooooh, ooohs," are what get you at the core. Other times you can catch traces of Jack White in the loud, fast, bold, punky songs. More than anything, it's her clear-as-day lyricism that's her strongest gift. Each song is like a pocket of her dough, dropped into a vat of oil, and moved around and pulled out to reveal a crusty shell with a soft inside.
As the night drew to a close, the audience was surprised to hear "This will be my last song," after just seven pieces before she pulled out "History Eraser." The song starts out simple with guitar and Courtney's walking vocals that lead the listener through an evening at a party before leading into a jam session with her band. While the rest of the night was about rock and roll, her encore turned things down with Barnett telling the audience, "Sooooo, stop yelling things at me," and how her new piece "Depreston" was a ripoff of Paul Kelly. The track talks of her cursing a California home where dreams go to die and proves again that repetition is the grandfather of all poetry.
Critics bias: Courtney is not typically my type of music, but her live show is amazing, and her talent is felt behind every note.
The crowd: A very odd mix of middle-aged couples, college kids, and everyone in between.
Overheard in the crowd: "She reminds me a lot of a young Sheryl Crow on Sheryl Crow's first album. I feel like a douche for saying that."
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