Back in February, I noticed that my Facebook newsfeed (already dominated by an onslaught of music reminders) kept REMINDING ME about a NEW ARTIST that was rising on the scene: Courtney Barnett. This reminder was further back by the opinions of my credible music resources: Paige Parsons– who saw Courtney at the Rickshaw Stop in San Francisco, and Chris Hayes- who saw Courtney at the Ace Hotel in London. Both spoke highly of her musical talent and her unique delivery as a singer/songwriter. One thing that I don’t recall them mentioning–something that is no obvious from her EP (‘A Sea of Split Peas’) either– is the RAW ROCKER EDGE that kinda just SMACKS YOU IN THE FACE during her live performances. For someone as chill and nonchalant as Courtney, her display of SHREDDING GUITAR comes as a surprise to most who come see her for the first time. Similar to St. Vincent in that regard, she makes stare in disbelief as she RAVAGES that electric guitar and sends it WAILING. I caught myself continually looking up at her all googly-eyed, thinking how freaking siiiiiiiiick it would be to reign a throne that once used to only be occupied by men. She sure does put the HER back in rockHER, and I’m all about pumping my fist in the air to show my support. HELL YES. xx
Having had the luxury of seeing her TWICE in 2 WEEKS —the Great Escape Music Festival in Brighton (May 9, 2014) and the Islington Assembly Hall in London (May 29, 2014)– I was AMAZED by the cool, collected confidence she carried throughout both performances. She didn’t appear to be nervous at all, and instead engaged in casual conversation with her fans (whom she refers to as “new friends”). In fact, at one point during the London gig, she asked “So what are you all doing tomorrow?” Having been nominated for NME’s Best New Band (2014) and having managed sold out tours in the UK, USA, Australia, I am impressed by her humbled appreciation for the audience support. She’s very apathetic about the whole fame thing and really makes an effort to greet all her “new friends” after the gig. Standing in the front for both gigs, I was lucky enough to flag her down (Sheree and I) after the show and strike up a chat. I am not ashamed to say that I am part of the Courtney CULT that is beginning to spread like wild fire.
Meeting Courtney after her Brighton Dome gig at the Great Escape music fest on May 9, 2014. Dying!! (From the left: Me, Courtney, Sheree)
Courtney’s Brighton Dome gig at this year’s Great Escape was hands down one of the STANDOUT PERFORMANCES of the festival. No question about it. Her lackadaisical but completely honest vocal style reminds me a bit of Kurt Vile, who I also really love. She delivers her dream-like narratives with such tangible imagery that you can’t help but jump in and go along for the ride. According to Rolling Stone magazine, “Barnett is a storytelling twenty-something singer/songwriter from Melbourne who writes matter-of-fact tales that unspool like barstool revelations and sound like some hybrid of Kimya Dawson and Kurt Cobain.” All of her tales carry their own element of sass and sarcasm, but it’s the rambling restlessness of History Eraser that we can’t seem to ERASE from our minds. With lines like “they made their paints by mixing acid wash and lemonade” and “We drove by tractor there, the yellow straw replaced our hair, we laced the dairy river with the cream of sweet vermouth,” you can only grin over the pure ingenuity of her impressive imagination. The best, though, is the chorus: “In my brain I re-arrange the letters on the page to spell your name…” (I just wish her bass player sang it louder during the gig!)
My favorite verses have got to be the last two:
“You said “we only live once” so we touched a little tongue, and instantly i wanted to…
I lost my train of thought and jumped aboard the Epping as the doors were slowly closing on the world.
I touched on and off and rubbed my arm up against yours and still the inspector inspected me.
The lady in the roof was living proof that nothing really ever is exactly as it seems.
We caught the river boat downstream and ended up beside a team of angry footballers.
I fed the ducks some krill then we were sucked against our will into the welcome doors of the casino.
We drank green margaritas, danced with sweet senoritas, and we all went home as winners of a kind.
You said “i guarantee we’ll have more fun, drink till the moon becomes the sun, and in the taxi home i’ll sing you a triffids song!” (Tamanna, this one’s for you!)
A girl next to me grabbed what she thought was the setlist, only to find a list of scattered words with no obvious meaning (except to Courtney of course). We later found out from Courtney that this was her lyrical “cheat sheet.” Something EVEN MORE valuable than a setlist. “Love you/hate you” –> FENCE –: “Like you/despise you”….What with the FENCE separating those sets of contradictions? And what with he “Turpentine” and “Cyanide” references? She’s such an interesting enigma! xxx
After Courtney’s impressive performance at The Great Escape, I was patting myself on the back for having purchased tickets early to see her at the Islington Assembly Hall (cause they sold out within weeks). The day the gig came around, however, I happened to be in a HORRID MOOD (might as well have had “f*ck you” written on my forehead), and was on the verge of a tears walking to the venue. Well, thank god I made it, cause Courtney proved to be the ultimate cure, and singing along (yes, I know most of the lyrics now) to her dark, witty tales had me smiling in no time. Who needs therapy when you’ve got musical madness as medicine?..
Courtney starts off the gig with Don’t Apply Compression Gently, David, Lance Jr., Canned Tomatoes, Scotty Says, taking a break in between to thank the audience and ask questions like: “Are you all having a good time?”, “Who has seen me before and has come back?” She also called out a person in the upper balcony who was leaving for the toilet during her set (haha). Although I didn’t get Don’t Apply Compression Gently on video, it happens to be another favorite. The brut honesty of the chorus (“I may not be 100% happy but at least I’m not with you”) and last verse is killer:
“I take pieces of myself from everyone around me
I’m not individual enough for you
I replicate the people I admire
But at least I’m not bitter and sad.” (TRUTH).
Next up was what she introduced as an “angry song” about a “bad person,” soon correcting herself to say that person is probably “not so bad.” It’s called Out of the Woodwork, and it’s exactly what I needed to extinguish those bitter flames of frustration/anger/confusion I had burning inside. The line responsible for cracking a smile in my otherwise frowny face was: “I noticed you stopped talking to me, now you’re talking to me all the time” (we’ve all been there)
But then she stabs at him even harder, saying:
“Do you know you’re no good at listening? But you’re really good at saying everything on your mind.
It must be tiring trying so hard, to look like you’re not really trying at all.
I guess if you’re afraid of aiming too high, then you’re not really gonna have too far to fall.” (SLAYED.)
Out of the Woodwork:
Then there was Are You Looking After Yourself?, which Courtney said was inspired her mom’s voice (e.g. nagging). This song makes so much more sense after you separate half the lyrics to include her mom’s part. (GOD, she is so freaking witty and clever. )
Mom: “Are you working hard my darling, we’re so worried, always thinking of you and we just want you to be so happy, keep on going…”
Courtney: “I don’t want no 9 to 5, telling me that I’m alive and ‘Man, you’re doing well!”
Mom: “Have you got some money saved up for those rainy days? You should start some sort of trust fund just in case you fail” (sound very familiar…)
Courtney: “My friends play in bands, they are better than everything on radio…”
Are You Looking After Yourself:
(I think it’s safe to say that she IS indeed LOOKING AFTER HERSELF. She’s KILLIN IT right now!)
Following that one was a new song which they still haven’t a name for (hence it listed as “Blah” on the setlist). This one was probably the most volatile of all, and the lyrics cut like a knife. The harsh words kinda remind me a bit of Alanis Morrisette.
“Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you.
Tell me I’m accessible and I’ll only exploit you.”
Next up was Avant Gardener, HANDS DOWN my favorite from Courtney’s kickass collection. I FREAKIN’ LOVE THIS TRACK and the entire witty rendition of a relatively serious event: the time she suffered from anaphylactic shock when trying to clear her front yard on a hot morning. “The one thing that captivates me in a song is the honesty of a songwriter. It could be about walking to the shop, but if it’s said with that person’s perspective then it can make it interesting,” says Courtney. This is ethos that dominates her EP, and this song in particular. My favorite verses (although they’re hard to choose!):
“Life’s getting hard in here
So i do some gardening
Anything to take my mind away from where it’s sposed to be.
I feel pro-active
I pull out weeds
All of a sudden
I’m having trouble breathing in…
I take a hit from
An asthma puffer
I do it wrong
I was never good at smoking bongs.
I’m not that good at breathing in.” (Genius ending.)
Setting up a DOUBLY WHAMMY and hitting us with her two best in a row, she follows with the crowd pleaser, History Eraser.
Then, we all didn’t think there was going to be an encore, as Courtney affirmed that History Eraser would be their official “last song.” SO, we were all super excited (jumping up and down inside) when she came out to play one more song. It was an ode to Preston, the area in Melbourne where she was possibly going to live until she realized how “depressing” it is (hence Depreston as the title of the song). She quickly mentions that it’s really “not that bad, though..” and she doesn’t want to give Preston a bad rap. The lyrics which really stood out to me were:
“If you had to spare half a million, You could knock it down and start rebuildin’..” (chills)
So amazed and utterly IN AWE of Courtney after this performance, I couldn’t help but wait in line to chat with her real quick and tell her how much enjoyed the show for a second time (this time knowing MOST of the lyrics.) I also asked her why both gigs they didn’t play Anonymous Club, which happens to be one of my favorites. Lyrics like: “Turn your phone off friend, you’re amongst friends and we don’t need no interruptions…Leave your shoes at the door, along with your troubles.” YES. Get me there. She responded by saying that was a difficult song to play live and they haven’t quite figured it out yet. Mainly I think it’s because they need to get another guitarist (or maybe the drummer?) to make some of those background effects while she keep on rhythm. Hopefully that’s something they’ll work on for future cause I LOVE IT…love her. Def seeing her again and again. ❤