A Tale of Two Nights: Courtney Barnett in Austin (6.4 & 6.5)

Admittedly, I’m a sideline Courtney Barnett fan.  The tunes are good, and I enjoyed The Double EP, but these two nights were definitely meant for my ladyfriend, who many might call a super-fan.  So, for the two nights we shared together with Courtney Barnett, I just sat back and watched her enjoyment, while taking in the whole situation of one of indie rock’s fastest rising stars taking over Austin.

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Thursday night Courtney took to the historic Moody Theatre for an ACL Taping.  Even the host admitted that having an artist so early in her career just stands as an example of Barnett’s meteoric rise these last few years. When she took to the stage, she was all business, no banter (for the most part). Her set included staples from her two releases such as “Avant Gardener,” “Depreston,” and “Pedestrian at Best.”  It’s interesting to see how into the songs the audience were, as tapings can obviously be a little bit different than a live show.  As one who was fortunate enough to catch her on both nights, you could see that the importance of the moment might have gotten to Courtney, just a little bit; she was timid in comparison to her performance the following night.  That being said, she’s far from timid when it comes to simply playing her songs. I see her movement as that of a marionette; her guitar neck cranes towards the ground, her body bends that way. Her fingers jitter on the strings, her body shakes in unison.  Everything is connected and she’s in her own world.  Some people might dismiss her music, but once you’ve seen her perform live, you’ll see why she’s the hottest commodity out there. She came out for an encore by playing an homage to fellow Aussie band, You Am I, covering the group’s hit “Heavy Heart.” Beautiful and touching…and such a great pop song that went overlooked in the US.

Now, the live show with Courtney at Mohawk was something entirely different.  A sold out show always makes me feel a little uncomfortable…swollen crowd, sweaty people, too much chatter.  But, for an artist, I can imagine it being a huge moment, the sort a musician lives to play.  Ms. Barnett certainly acted like it, at least in so far as her performance.  Her vocals were a little bit looser, often pushing into a scream when the moment called.  Even her stage banter, as slight as it was, seemed more open to the audience. Her set, for the most part, was more or less the same, although song order was switched around a bit, and we were treated to the Breeders “Cannonball” as opposed to the You Am I hit from the previous evening.  Personally, I think that “Pedestrian at Best” is her best tune, and better live than on the recording.  Having seen it performed on the final night of Courtney’s Austin stint with complete abandon, I’m hooked on the track; she’s all over the stage, flailing hair and guitar about in an effort to destroy anything that stands in her way.

Whether you get Courtney’s music or not, having spent two nights seeing her play, you can definitely see why there’s so much focus on her music right now.  I just hope that her lyrics “put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you” don’t come true, as she deserves every ounce of credit coming her way at the moment.

Photos courtesy of the very rad Pooneh Ghana.

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