Courtney Barnett is an Australian rock’n’roller who has just released her first full album, “Sometimes I Sit And Think, Sometimes I Just Sit”, although she merged two EPs a while back for an album called “The Double EP: A Sea Of Split Peas”. That was a great collection: some excellent songs like “History Eraser”, “Avant Gardener” and my favourite, “Canned Tomatoes (Whole)”, which has brilliant rumbling bass line. She has a distinctive musical style: the music itself is stripped-down rock/punk/blues rhythms over which she extemporises about daily life, everyday traumas. It’s pretty personal at times: “Avant Gardener’ is well known for its candid description of an asthma and panic attack. The delivery is quite deadpan and the Aussie accent shines through. It’s a really intriguing mix.
She’s been building up a strong live following and the new album, in indie circles, was much-anticipated. It’s not disappointing. I haven’t listened to it enough yet to become really familiar, but there are some striking tunes, not least the single, “Pedestrian At Best”, which has had a lot of airplay from BBC 6 Music. Her latest tour was sold out – I just managed to get some tickets for the show at Camden’s Electric Ballroom before they ran out. And I’m sure glad I did!
There were two support bands. The first, Fraser A Gorman, we missed – we didn’t manage to extricate ourselves from the Sushi Salsa restaurant in time (it’s so rock’n’roll). But I really wanted to get there for Spring King, as I’d loved their track, “Better Man”, which I heard on the 6 Music Recommends Playlister on Spotify. ( I strongly recommend this as a great way of catching up with some of the best sounds of the moment). It was punk with a melodic streak; and the half hour show bore that out. A lively, tightly played sound. Unusually, the drummer taking lead vocals, which must be difficult when you are playing full-on rock’n’roll. Easy to make comparisons with the likes of The Vaccines and Palma Violets, and so, almost by definition, The Strokes and The Ramones. But these are good comparisons! It was an impressive cameo, and I shall definitely be checking out more of their music.
Courtney came on and gave us an hour and a half of hard rocking. The sparseness of the recorded songs give her plenty of room to improvise and rock out live, and this she most certainly did! She was accompanied by a bassist and drummer, Bones Sloane and Dave Mudie – a classic three piece. (On the new record there is another guitarist, Dan Luscombe). The music could have been from any time since the early seventies; but I kept on thinking of Nirvana, and grunge in general. In the noise of the live concert, you lost the subtlety and quirkiness of the lyrics, but you got some hard-driving rhythms and spiky guitar instead. Played with confidence and style. There is something about Courtney Barnett that makes me think she could become quite a big star – and that she might appeal to the Americans too. And if she manages that then she is laughing.
Highlights? A bit hard to say, because I’m still familiarising myself with most of the music, apart from those tunes I mentioned earlier. So “History Eraser” got an early airing; and “Avant Gardener” and “Pedestrian At Best” made for a magnificent climax to the show. Sadly “Canned Tomatoes” didn’t make the cut, but you can’t have everything!
So if you like good rock’n’roll that both draws on past heroes and has a contemporary touch, buy the album(s) and try and catch Courtney Barnett live. Before she ends up just doing festivals and stadiums!
It’s always neat when you catch someone on their way up. Which from what you say, sounds like where she’s going.
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