Courtney Barnett @ The Art School, Glasgow 2/4/2015

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courtney barnett dead fox

Sticky floors? Check. Thin veil of condensation in the air? Check. £2 can of Red Stripe in hand? Check. Arty crowd and abundance of oversized denim jackets?  Check. Australian wordsmith specializing in turning the ordinary into the extraordinary? Check. It can only mean one thing… I’m at Glasgow’s famous Art School to see Melburnian singer-songwriter and witty, deadpan commentator of the everyday, Courtney Barnett.

After releasing two EPs in 2012 and 2013, Barnett combined both of these in The Double EP: A Sea of Split Pea, which was received with critical acclaim. The debut album proper, Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit, was released on 23rd March 2015 and is bloody brilliant (read Overblown’s thoughts HERE). Lo-fi, slacker garage-rock combined with witty, droll observations has earned Courtney comparisons to Lou Reed, Pavement and Bob Dylan.  I have been listening to the new album non-stop since I could first get my hands on it, and I cannot wait to see it in action tonight.

Courtney and her skeletal rhythm section of drum and bass accompaniment bob onto the stage, quirky and unassuming. With a classic Aussie introduction of ‘Hey, how ya going?’, the band open with the jaunty and upbeat ‘Elevator Operator’, the introductory track from  the new album. ‘An Illustration of Loneliness’ which, despite lyrics describing a ‘loveline intertwined with death’ and ’oily residue dripping from the kitchen’ sees Barnett and her band exchange smiles and knowing glances throughout, providing a strange cheeriness to a gloomy lyrical background.

 

The next clear highlight is ‘Are You Looking After Yourself’ – a song inspired by an email her worried Mum sent her and a stellar example of Courtney’s ability to turn the mundane into a delightful form of poetry. The song alternates between concerned questions from her mother: “Have you got some money saved up for those rainy days / You should start some sort of trust fund just in case you fail” and Courtney’s glorious slacker response:  “I don’t want no 9 to 5 / Telling me that I’m alive.” An instrumentally spacious track, it leaves the audience hanging on her every word. Don’t worry Mrs Barnett, I think it’s safe to say that Courtney won’t be failing. She’s got this.

Her candid style has the audience captivated as her meandering, deadpan vocals ramble through a stream of consciousness, over the top of slow rolling guitar jams. Further new tunes come in the form of ‘Dead Fox’, ‘Small Poppies’, ‘Debbie Downer’ and the simply brilliant ‘Depreston’, a poignant tale of house hunting in the suburbs, and the oppressive feeling of settling for a bog-standard life, and wanting more. Her complacent, sing-speak style adds to the apparent boredom as Courtney lazily ponders “You said we should look out further / I guess it wouldn’t hurt us /  We don’t have to be around all these coffee shops. Now we’ve got that percolator / Never made a latte greater / I’m savin’ 23 dollars a week.”

 

Despite the apathy and dissatisfaction with life that is apparent throughout her EPs and album, Courtney in person is animated and engaged with the crowd. She pauses in between most tracks to strike up conversation and with the audience and her band. Highlights include a group sing-a-long of happy birthday to the bass player, Dylan; Courtney helping a drunk woman in the crowd find her (drunker) husband; and generally having no fucking clue what any of the Glaswegian crowd were heckling her about. Her flippant, sarcastic manner was endearing and her Aussie drawl had the crowd in stitches. “Yeah man, that’s totally sick” was the standard response to every bit of indecipherable Scottish nonsense that was shouted out in the breaks between songs.

The set ends on a strong treble of hits. Barnett plays the first single from The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas – ‘Avant Gardener’, which tells the story of a slacker girl, gardening and panic attacks. Then comes the psychedelic sounding ‘History Eraser’. As expected, she finishes with the lyrical genius of ‘Pedestrian at Best,’ a song that makes me want to throw myself through a set of glass patio doors in excitement. Strangely, this song doesn’t translate as well live as the others; the wit and insightful mania of the lyrics lost in the up-tempo nature of the track and shouty vocals. Nonetheless, the soul baring, self-deprecating brilliance, goes down well with the crowd, injecting some frenzy to the otherwise subdued affair. (It was at this point that the girl with the bobbing head in front of me got over-excited and whipped her ponytail right into my left eyeball. It is testament to the greatness of the track that I didn’t even mind.)

An encore is demanded by the stomping feet of everyone in the venue and Courtney comes back out stating, “all right then, we know a couple more songs.” They play ‘Aqua Profunda!’, a tale of falling in love in the swimming pool followed by a cover of the Divinyls, ‘I’ll Make You Happy’. And indeed it did.

A night that was as brilliant as it was rough around the edges, Courtney and her boys are insanely likeable. She has inspired me to open my eyes to the everyday, and take in the detail of what’s around me. From shower rails to percolators to Monday morning laundry, there’s a story everywhere. Cheers Courtney, you absolute babe.

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