Courtney Barnett – Rough Trade NYC – June 5, 2016
I’m not sure if the proper expression to capture the mood inside the club on Sunday night involved clouds and silver linings or making lemonade out of lemons, but for the lucky (and the wet) who got in, the pot of gold at the end of the rainbow was a free Courtney Barnett show at Rough Trade NYC. After a severe rainstorm shut down Governors Ball, the show was one of several hastily arranged performances around town—no one inside had woken up that morning planning to be there. Still, unsurprisingly, the room was packed elbow to elbow and the steamy warmth of the crowd fueled chants of “Courtney!” as the lights finally went down.
The performance unintentionally served as a nice spot-check on a career that has exploded exponentially. Absent the massive stage of a larger club or the expansive audience of a festival set, Barnett’s charm and talent were right there for the grabbing. Opening with “Dead Fox,” accompanied by an animated video in full Technicolor flickering behind the trio, the band found a glorious sludge of guitar, bass and drums while the audience started to percolate. “An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York)” began with an appropriately drowsy mood with a rock-out that somewhat unsuspectingly crept up on the crowd. It was a good template for many of her songs, like “Out of the Woodwork”—and the show overall, which balanced expert, phrase-twisting poetry with audience-bouncing rock and roll, each piece building on the previous. The set bounced between songs from her Sometimes I Sit and Think album and the older double EP, plus a few from neither, providing a nice capsule of the Courtney Barnett sound to date. “Depreston” elicited a full-volume sing-along, a sweaty mass of voices nearly drowning out the band’s, but the song somehow never lost its emotional oomph. Less familiar but equally powerful was their cover of the Grateful Dead’s “New Speedway Boogie,” featured on the recent Day of the Dead. As visions of highway-driving tunnel vision filled the screen, the trio filtered the old hippie screed through the Barnett sound: an excellent too-cool stoner blues.
Like the songs contained within, the show built to a fist-pumping rage, the closing section highlighted by “the hits,” like “Avant Gardner” and “Pedestrian at Best.” The room somehow felt even more packed as the band and audience unleashed their full, pent-up, rain-delayed power. Barnett and Co. closed with “Nobody Really Cares if You Don’t Go to the Party,” which somehow perfectly, inversely captured the spirit of this special Sunday night show. She claimed it was one of their “favorite shows ever,” which kind of felt like a pickup line, but coming from Barnett, I think most in the room believed her. The encore started with a bit of off-the-cuff goofing, Barnett starting and stopping almost a dozen different classic-rock riffs (think: “Stairway to Heaven,” “Wish You Were Here,” Nirvana), the band hopping in almost perfectly each time, and most in the crowd smiling and laughing imagining how great it would be if they really played any of them. Maybe next rainout they will, but instead the audience made do with the fun finish of “Pickles from the Jar,” getting their last bit of dancing in, the proper expression here involving hay and sunshine. —A. Stein |@Neddyo