Courtney Barnett Tells Us How She Really Feels At The Greek Theatre Aussie Singer's Musical Stories Captivates Raptured Crowd
LOS ANGELES, CA- Courtney Barnett’s first studio work, the “double ep” A Sea Of Split Peas was a revelation. Its breakthrough track, “Avant Gardenner” was such a witty introduction to the musical stylings and clever lyricism of the Aussie rock and roller. After all, how many musicians can write a song about failing at gardening so poetically, self-illustrating? It’s through her songwriting that the listener really connects to her music.
Courtney’s third full-length studio album, Tell Me How You Really Feel, which took 3 years to make, was released earlier this year and has all of the trademarks of her prior albums. New and seemingly ordinary subject matter is analyzed and observed through the artistic lens of Ms. Barnett, and colored with the 90s alt-rock sound that Courtney is known. Perhaps the album is a bit more polished than other her others which perhaps makes it seem a little less raw- less visceral- the her prior works, but it’s still a terrific work as a whole. 37 minute that any fan will enjoy.
I had been wanting to catch Courtney since the release of that double EP, but missed out on all of her intimate performance at The Bootleg and Origami Vinyl (a tiiiiiiiny vinyl shop in Echo Park). Now, she’s headlining a 5,870 capacity venue in The Greek.
Kicking off the music for the evening was the singer-songwriter Katie Crutchfield p/k/a “Waxahatchee”. Katie released her fourth album, Out In The Storm, last year and has really evolved her sound. Out In The Storm is sonically stronger, probably as a result of having John Agnello co-producer the effort. The sound is fuller and the guitar is harder while Katie’s voice insightful lyricism captivates.
Her opening set for Courtney was, however, sans band; opting for a more stripped down approach to her performance accompanied by only another acoustic guitarist. But the lack of the full band really allowed for her vulnerability to shine. “Recite Remorse” was particularly wonderful. While she has plenty of music in her own repertoire, Waxahatchee’s performance included a pair of covers, “Fruits of My Labor” (which she opened her set with) and “Chapel of Pines” by Great Thunder. She peacefully lulled us out by concluding her set with the beautiful song “Fade”.
The music got considerably louder when Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks took the stage next. The last time I was able to catch Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks perform live was at Coachella in 2008, and all I can say is that this band still sounds as good as ever. Touring in support of their latest album released earlier this year, Sparkle Hard, Stephen and company mixed in a bit of the new with a couple of the old, and even threw in a Pavement (“And Then (The Hexx)”) and Neil Young (“Barstool Blues”) covers to boot. What was particularly exciting about the performance was the way they jammed out passages of songs. When Stephen threw his guitar behind his head and closed his eyes, it was a perfect exhibition of “playing by feel”, and that’s when the band’s sound swelled into a massive crescendo of sound.
The biggest, and most noteworthy, part of their performance, however, was a moment that I technically missed. As I haven’t photographed very often at this particular venue, I was unaware of the fact that between acts I could stow my gear and watch the balance of the opening performances from my seat. Instead, I stood at the inner gate, watching the performance on the LED screen provided for those waiting in line for concessions.
Towards the end of their set, Sonic Youth front woman Kim Gordon joined Stephen to sing the Sparkle Hard duet “Refute”. It’s an odd duet insofar as it’s a song sung in a country twang, but anytime you have the chance to see two legends of a musical era team up on stage, it’s a musical privilege… I”m just bummed that I had to watch it on a screen from outside the venue.
With Stephen and his Jicks getting the crowd warmed up, Courtney took the stage to a rapturous applause from fans young and old (the preteens attending the concert with their parents, singing along to every word was a joy to watch). That’s the kind of draw that Courtney’s music has. Anyone can appreciate a good story, and each of Courtney’s songs is basically that.
For about an hour and a half, Courtney entertained the large L.A. audience with a selection of 19 songs that featured music from her latest album, easing the crowd into her world with the album’s soothing opener “Hopefulness”. As she gently sang “take your broken heart, turn it into art,” it was almost like subtle call to arms; a premonition of what was about to come.
The story telling commenced with her next song, “City Looks Pretty”, which is about her experience as a introvert during a night on the town, which she- in her almost deadpan way- shrugs off as a fact of her life. It’s such a vulnerable, human expression of herself, and it’s that human characteristic of Courtney that make her and her music so relatable to her fans.
That vulnerability comes to the forefront during her performances of her hits “Avant Gardener” and “Small Poppies”. When she sings “the humanity I wanna disappear into obscurity, But I’m sure it’s a bore being you” (“Small Poppies), those are feeling that anybody who’s ever felt alone has felt. Every so often, Courtney would throw in moments of pure angst as she did with “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch”, and as the heavily saturated red stage lights swirled around her, you couldn’t help but bang your head a little. Her lovely covers of Elyse Weinberg’s “Houses” (with Waxahatchee) and Gillian Welch’s “Everything Is Free” were also memorable, but for me, losing myself in her angsty growl was exactly what I needed to get my blood swirling.
Upon retrospect, I think about all of the shows that I missed in the past. I imagine what it would have been like to get lost in her music in a small, intimate venue; having her tell her musical stories just feet away from me, with the room’s temperature rising due open-mouthed breaths and body heat. I think I would have loved that. It just goes to show that you got to catch them early, or you’ll have to catch them at The Greek.