Courtney Barnett has been crafting witty, mid-paced indie gems for half a decade; on a mild Wednesday evening she treated Brixton to a well-deserved outing of her latest material. After an all-Australian warm up roster, featuring the three-guitar jangle-juggernaut that is Rolling Blackouts Coastal Fever (think Interpol meets Cream), Courtney Barnett took to the stage in front of a mostly middle-aged crowd at the O2 Academy.
Barnett’s latest album may brim with the same high-octane energy as 2015’s Sometimes I Sit and think…, but as the oozing groove of ‘Hopefulessness’ emerged from a cacophony of feedback; it became apparent that there was more to her work than a casual Spotify listen would suggest.
Barnett and her cohort were there not for the vain theatrics, but for the music. Each member focused largely on their instrument, coaxing out the most that each song could give, while four-thousand heads bobbed along. The result was a powerful haze that simmered and bubbled beneath the cute melodies and tongue in cheek wordplay for which Barnett has made herself a name. In instrumental breaks the band’s energy boiled over, wringing the most out of their simple arrangements.
Many crowd members were already mouthing along as Barnett crooned “take your broken heart / turn it into art…”. Her band, feeding off the energy that filled the academy, remained effortlessly cool, while eliciting increasing excitement from its spectators. Roars, whoops and whistles would erupt as Barnett stumbled her way across the stage, bent double over her guitar after delivering another unflinching verse. Her vocal performance was strong throughout the night, capturing the same character and power found on her studio cuts.
Midway through the set, opener Laura Jean returned to the stage to provide sax and vocals (uncannily similar to those of Courtney herself) for a cover of the Go-Betweens’ ‘Streets of your town’; another homage to the Milk! record label owner’s Aussie roots. Barnett might have been better suited to cover one of her peers - Julien Baker, or long-time partner Jen Cloher perhaps – as it became evident that the crowd was not particularly familiar with the track, and a lull ensued.
Passion from the crowd quickly returned as Barnett launched back into her own material. ‘I’m not your mother, I’m not your bitch’, the audience bellowed with relish, the raucous anti-snob anthem clearly a fan favourite.
‘Nameless, Faceless’ and its effortless handling of internet critics and gender politics in one fell swoop was another choice cut. Ms. Barnett’s impossibly quotable lyrics, “Men are scared that women will laugh at them / women are scared that men will kill them” and “I could eat a bowl of alphabet soup / and spit out better words than you” were certainly not lost on her adoring audience. Friends exchanged knowing grins at each lilting one-liner.
After a sublimely chosen setlist, parading the singer’s most beloved tunes, the crunching riff of ‘Pedestrian at Best’ pushed Brixton into the beautiful chaos of dance. Nothing was left to be proved for Barnett and her band, they had managed to add something beyond words to what was already a set of very strong songs. Readers would be advised to catch Barnett and her crowd next time they pass through London.