Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile / Jen Cloher

Massey Hall, Toronto ON, October 31

Photo: Atsuko Kobasigawa

BY Alex HudsonPublished Nov 1, 2017

It's easy to see what drew Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile together. They're both wry, observational singer-songwriters with a fondness for laid-back slacker vibes, making the recent collaborative album Lotta Sea Lice a natural pairing. They even showed up for this Halloween show dressed almost identically, wearing skinny jeans and plaid flannel shirts with their long hair hanging down in tangles.
Despite the concert being held at prestigious Massey Hall, it felt less like a super-duo and more like a well-rehearsed jam session with friends. Adding to the cozy, intimate atmosphere, Barnett's wife Jen Cloher opened up the set with a night of tender acoustic numbers, and her affable between-song banter offered some insight into her domestic life with Barnett.
When the headliners took the stage, they replicated Lotta Sea Lice's opening run of songs, with standout opener "Over Everything" highlighting the conversational rapport of their duet singing. Vile's nimble fretboard explorations meant that he stood out more as a guitarist, while Barnett carried the bulk of the vocal charisma with her poetic sing-speak. They were backed by three musicians (dubbed "the Sea Lice"), with their drummer masterfully combining hard-hitting muscle with syncopated subtlety.
Although Courtney and Kurt's similarities gave them an effortless chemistry, it also made it easy for them to stay within their comfort zones. Their collaborative numbers were pleasant but never dazzling, and it was their signature solo tunes — Barnett's "Depreston" and Vile's "Pretty Pimpin'" — that earned by far the biggest reactions from the crowd.
The audience was polite but placid, and everyone remained seated before finally standing up and moving forward during the encore, which included a lively rendition of Barnett's "Avant Gardener." Perhaps if the entire show had that much energy, it would have been dazzling rather than simply pleasant.

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Ed Note: This review originally misidentified a performer, and has been corrected.

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