As introductory stage banter goes, “how’s it going?” might not seem particularly profound. But those three words, spoken by Courtney Barnett as she took to the Metro Theatre’s stage provided an immediate glimpse into the appeal of the musician and her music. After all, Barnett is, above all else, relaxed. Some of her songs might burst with euphoria, others might tremble with melancholy, but one always gets a sense of unfiltered, laidback honesty when listening to the Australian singer songwriter’s laconic voice. Courtney Barnett is your best friend: whether you’ve met her in the flesh or not is beside the point.
From that concise greeting till the emphatic close of the set, Barnett wowed. It’s rare – and I mean, genuinely rare – to be in the presence of a musician who nails every single note, every single line. There are bad gigs, there are good gigs, there are great gigs, and then there are those gigs that you feel like you’ll spend the rest of your life mulling over, listening to songs in the order that the band played them in, trying forever to recreate the euphoria that washed over you that night. With beautiful, immediate precision, Barnett catapulted her set into the final category.
The sound was perfect: fleshed out by the impeccable work of drummer David Mudie, and bassist Bones Sloane, it was concise, grungy and technically flawless, with Avant Gardener and Elevator Operator as some of the set’s many highlights. Barnett and her band played loud, epic songs like Pedestrian At Best, and Dead Fox – songs that felt like they could (and should) be played in the kind of arenas that more radio friendly bands like Muse and the Foo Fighters fill out – and then seamlessly switched into intimate, beautifully drawn tracks like the heart-breaking Depreston. The fact that the audience sang along to that latter track is another key to Barnett’s success: the singer writes tunes that prompt an entire room of pumped up gig-goers to sing lines like “well, it’s a deceased estate.”
Even the covers Barnett played – including The Breeder’s difficult Cannonball and Tom Morgan and Evan Dando’s beautiful Being Around – felt intrinsic to the set rather than tacked on or perfunctory. Instead of seeming like the now expected “tribute section” of any musician’s gig repertoire, they came across as totally naturally extensions of Barnett’s sound.
I won’t lie to you: if you missed Barnett’s show, you missed something pretty special. But, don’t despair. There was nothing about Barnett’s stage presence that indicated she thought the gig she was playing was unusually good; indeed, from her laidback attitude, one gets the sense that Barnett plays sets this incredible all the time. Again, it’s part of her endless appeal: she performs shows that you’ll be thinking about the rest of your life in a way that appears to be the most natural thing in the world for her to do.