-img courtesy of www.courtneybarnett.com.au
There is something endlessly endearing about Courtney Barnett. It could be because she looks so wonderfully normal, just another twenty-something in jeans and a checked flannel shirt. It could be because her songs are so magnificently real, filled with witty lyrical gems about masturbating, panic attacks and being too lazy to fix the TV. It doesn’t much matter what it is that Barnett has got, only that she has it and she’s holding it tight to her chest.
She is here tonight, in tiny London pub, the Seabright Arms. It is a strange combination of the hip and the old fashioned, with the hip winning out for tonight at least. This small but excited crowd of students and (I hate to say it) straight up and down indie hipster kids are here because they’ve got their fingers on the pulse. Whilst Courtney Barnett is still a relatively unknown name to British music fans, these are the people with the power to eventually catapult her into the mainstream.
They better relish their time alone with her, because Barnett was born to be a star. She is a brand new kind of icon, for a brand new age. ‘I’m pretty happy that there are so many people here to see us,’ she says, with what seems like genuine surprise. ‘It is our first time playing in England as a band.’ She is going to have to get used to it, if rave reviews of her recent UK festival performances are anything to go by.
On stage tonight, Barnett is as authentic as an artist can be – which is surprisingly when you consider the immense pressure placed on female musicians these days. This indie goddess doesn’t seem to have noticed, however, because she strolls out with a completely bare face and an oversized shirt. She looks every bit as cool and confident as Lady Gaga or Rihanna too. She is joined by her band, Dave Mundie on drums and Bones Sloane on bass.
You only have to look at the way that the trio react to one another on stage to know that this is one tight unit. After a bit of friendly banter with the crowd, Barnett starts to make her way through the tracks on recent release ‘The Double EP: A Sea Of Split Peas.’ She launches her way through fan favourite ‘Avant Gardner,’ with a confidence and skill that belies her years. This groovy little ditty has to be one of the wittiest tracks of the last few years, with its tale about an Australian heatwave and an unexpected panic attack.
The music industry has already put a label on Courtney Barnett. She is a female Kurt Cobain with slacker tendencies, Stephen Malkmus with breasts and a beguiling smile. Yet, there is so much more to both her music and her live performances than this label demonstrates. As she wheels into rambling anti-folk odyssey ‘History Eraser’ this is clearer than ever. The track sounds more beautiful played live than you’d ever believe it could, perhaps more beautiful than it somehow deserves to sound.
To really, genuinely, find Barnett utterly captivating to watch is a surprise in itself. It isn’t that it is difficult to imagine her being entertaining, it is simply that her style is laid back and sparse – yet, it is no less exciting for it. It feels like she’s playing for herself tonight, but without alienating the fans who clearly adore her. In fact, Courtney Barnett just is. She just knows how to be, without fancy set pieces or glamorous outfits. She is real, and it shows in everything that she does – including the wonderful performance that she gives here tonight.
– Sam Haimes