Courtney Barnett Takes Over The Bowery BallroomMay 20th, 2015
Courtney Barnett – The Bowery Ballroom – May 19, 2015
Aussie Courtney Barnett rocks a style that fits perfectly into New York City culture. Her quick-witted, matter-of-fact observations feature a naturally dry sense of humor, making just about every line she sings stand out for its brilliance. (Consider her the David Letterman of indie rock and roll.) So it makes sense that for her latest trip here, promoting her debut full-length album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, she’s all but taken over The Bowery Ballroom, easily selling out the venue for three nights in a row.
The first thing to note when seeing Courtney Barnett is that her backing band (the Courtney Barnetts) is incredibly tight, not something to be expected of a group carrying the banner for Barnett’s songwriting best known for its nonchalant observations. It’s a very unassuming kind of awesome, the kind that sneaks up on you as a song hits its bridge. “Small Poppies” crept its way into a scorching solo from Barnett worthy of burning down the venue. Contrast that to what she sang, in lines like “I used to hate myself but now I think I’m alright.” It’s brilliant. On “Nobody Really Cares if You Don’t Go to the Party,” Barnett’s repeated guitar riff hit so perfectly off the bass rhythm that it almost sounded like it was bouncing off its thud. The guitar solo carrying out “Avant Gardener” was stretched beyond the brilliance heard on its recorded version. Calling it now: There will never be a better song written about having an allergic reaction while gardening.
Last night’s set featured the NYC live debut of a song Barnett wrote on her first trip here—and overseas—as she described it, “A sad song I wrote to this groovy bit,” appropriately titled “An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York).” The high-water mark for emotional intensity came during “Kim’s Caravan.” On the repeated refrain, “So take what you want from me,” Barnett strained her voice to the point where it started to crack, like it was beginning to split open from the emotion of it. The night featured two covers, “Cannonball” by the Breeders, a perfect song for this band to master, and the Lemonheads’ “Being Around,” which she played by herself to kick off the encore. The latter cover compelled some to pull out their lighters, a lost concert cliché that was waiting to come back for a perfect moment like this. The set ended with “Pedestrian at Best,” with its refrain of “put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you.” To pluck that delicious low-hanging fruit and take this review to it’s inevitable conclusion: She’s not disappointing anyone. —Dan Rickershauser | @D4nRicks
Photos courtesy of Pip Cowley | pipcowleyshoots.com