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Things Get Bigger for Courtney Barnett at Terminal 5

July 23rd, 2015

Courtney Barnett – Terminal 5 – July 22, 2015

Courtney Barnett – Terminal 5 – July 22, 2015
Courtney Barnett playing a sold out show at Terminal 5? Seems a bit sudden, doesn’t it? But, yes, Courtney Barnett played a sold-out show at Terminal 5(!) and dominated the grand space like it was inevitable all along. While she began the set small, playing the opening song solo in a spotlight as the full house soaked in every word, things soon grew to a size appropriate for the room and just seemed to get bigger and bigger as the performance progressed. The trio—Barnett on vocals and guitar, Bones Sloane on bass and backing vocals and Dave Mudie on drums—exploded with sound on “Lance Jr.,” drums, bass and guitar almost immediately reaching full ignition. It was clear why she calls her band CB3 as this is a threesome following in the grand tradition of great power trios, halfway between Nirvana and the Experience, stripped down onstage with just a few lonely amps, and playing with a ferocity and that je ne sais trois innate to the best. The crowd was certainly well familiar with the songs off Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, but working through the material last night, Barnett and her mates made them feel altogether brand new. These were the 3D IMAX versions, extrasensory and totally immersive.

The location-appropriate “An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York)” featured a druggy tempo with a low-bass ooze as Barnett spun out her trademark lyrics—“Watching all the movies/ Drinking all the smoothies/ Swimming at the pool/ I’m thinking of you, too”—with charm and confidence while colorized images of the Williamsburg Bridge jittered on the screen behind her. Every song felt like a possible favorite and a potential sing-along. While the full-tilt rockers got the crowd loose and rowdy, the smoldering slow ones were the set’s highlights, keeping everyone rapt in her spell. “Small Poppies” was a revelation: slow-building each verse upon the next, Barnett howling “Eye for an eye for an eye …” while the rhythm section pushed things with a steady veteran skill, eventually making way for an intense spasm of a guitar jam with a hand-drawn monster literally lurking in the woods on the screen behind them.

“Depreston” served as a centerpiece for her skill of mixing the funny and the poignant, layering melodies and meanings within a single song that might have you alternating between smiling, crying and totally rocking out. There was scant banter between numbers, but little was needed with the songs’ conversational wit. What more is there to say when you’re already singing, “Everybody is somebody else’s somebody?” Besides, there was barely time to spare as the extended trio rock-outs ran up against curfew (Barnett quipping, “I thought this was the city that never sleeps!”). They blazed through the crowd-pleasing end of the show with high-energy versions of favorites “Avant Gardener” and “Pedestrian at Best,” Barnett taking a brief moment to appreciate the size of the venue and maybe the magnitude of the moment, before squeezing in a sing-along encore of “History Eraser.” Yeah, it was big, but it’s only getting bigger for CB3. —A. Stein | @Neddyo

Photos courtesy of Gregg Greenwood | gregggreenwood.com

(Courtney Barnett opens for Blur at Madison Square Garden on 10/23.)