Courtney Barnett

Stubb's BBQ, Austin TX, March 18

Courtney BarnettStubb's BBQ, Austin TX, March 18
Photo: Ellie Pritts
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Without a word, Courtney Barnett arrived onstage, bathed in blue light and charging out the first track from her forthcoming LP, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, "Elevator Operator" — and what an impression she made.
 
Barnett was cool as a cucumber as she sent her slightly raspy alto croon soaring over the mix. Barnett is the sole guitarist in her live band, backed only by drums and a bassist, but she got all the sound she needed out of it, flailing her guitar around as she coaxed thick, distorted riffs out effortlessly.
 
Barnett is rightly praised for the braininess of her lyrics, but live, she is, very simply, a rock star. "Pedestrian At Best" found the singer ending the cutting "I don't find you very funny" chorus line with a grunted sound, making it more of a "funn-ooungh" than "funn-ee"; on the laidback "An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York)," she sang the chorus sweetly before a seismic wall of guitar crashed upon the audience.

Her first spoken word of the set was a simple "Thanks!" before she revealed that "We're playing nearly our whole album in full tonight!" as she introduced "Depreston." And lest one think her rock'n'roll chops meant dumbing down her sharp sense of humour, Barnett was drily witty throughout, dedicating "Nobody Really Cares if You Don't Make it to the Party" to "Everyone who didn't make it in... If they're here," and asking the crowd, "Have you had a long day? Talking and listening and having fun? That's fucking hard work." She ended another new song with self-deprecation: "That's 'Aqua Profunda'; what a stupid song!"
 
The performance was loud, and it was captivating. Barnett's set suggested she's a musician capable of much bigger things, ready to easily fill the most spacious rock clubs (Stubb's' outdoor yard was packed to the gills), yet her deadpan delivery assured the audience that she's far from taking her immense talent too seriously. "Dead Fox," she wryly claimed, was about "supporting your local supermarket."

Barnett ended with a serious, humble thank you, and introduced her band as they kicked into the heavy bass of set-closer "Kim's Caravan." She played no songs from her debut double EP; Courtney Barnett is looking forward, and you'd be wise to follow her.
 
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