Gig Review: Courtney Barnett @ Bristol O2 Academy
by Tom Stockley
The month of June was off to a good start for me and my co-writing accomplice GINS when we were sent to see rapidly-rising Australian queen of sarcasm Courtney Barnett as part of her latest tour, promoting new album Tell Me How You Feel.
Our slightly late arrival threw us right into the jangling reverberations of Loose Tooth, Courtney’s tour partners and relatively new sign ups to her independent label Milk! Records. High expectations for a young band from the other side of the world, but they delivered a carefully crafted selection of tracks from a solid debut album - this was music “swept together from the ashes of your finest night on the tiles”, in the vein of UK contemporaries like The Big Moon or Penelope Isles.
After an apprehensive break between sets, Courtney Barnett took to the stage. Without introduction or fuss (in a nonchalant style we’ve come to expect), she let loose with opening track ‘Hopefulnessless’. The five-minute ballad to mental health (with its chorus of “it’s ok to have a bad day”) set a precedent for the brooding and altogether more irascible tone of her new work and the point of artistic confidence at which she’s arrived.
"As Big Jeff described after the show - 'she’s hungry, she’s angry'."
A rendition of the sophomore album Tell Me How You Feel followed suit, full and unabridged. The furiously-paced ‘City Looks Pretty’ gave way to ‘Charity’, a song that showcases exactly why Courtney and her band have garnered international attention - true bedroom pop with arena-rock conviction. New tracks like this seem to give an even bigger nod to Riot Grrrrl veterans like Bikini Kill and other pioneers who have given Courtney her “Poly Styrene power”.
The deceptively mild ‘Need A Little Time’ gave the audience a contemplative moment before being struck by dystopian anthem ‘Nameless, Faceless’. An ode to internet trolls and partly inspired by Margaret Atwood, the recorded track features none other than Kim Deal on guitar - possibly part of the reason why the song could easily be an alternative 90s classic sitting among the likes of Half Japanese and Pavement. There was no time to scrutinise and no f**ks given as the band wretched out ‘I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch’. As Big Jeff described after the show - “she’s hungry, she’s angry”. ‘Crippling Self Doubt’, ‘Help Yourself’ and ‘Walkin’ On Eggshells’ made up an introverted 10 minutes before album closer ‘Sunday Roast’ - a song 17 years in the making and well worth it.
The newest album laid bare, it was time to delve into a back catalogue of fan favourites (of which there are many). ‘Avant Gardener’ wins ‘Best Song About Gardening’ every time, whilst ‘Illustration of Loneliness’ showcased the keyboard prowess of bandmate Katie Harkin (Sky Larkin, Wild Beasts) and ‘Depreston’ combined the storytelling of Nick Drake with the acerbity of Kim Gordon. Sprinkle liberally with other tales of modern tragedy like ‘Elevator Operator’ and ‘Anonymous Club’ and you’ve got a set that couldn’t disappoint even the most reluctant of Tuesday night culture vultures. After an unsurprising encore (self-deprecating hit single ‘Pedestrian At Best’), the band slunk offstage. It’s clear that anyone who can rise from quirky solo act to packed out prominence whilst running a label, designing her own artwork and collaborating with other artists evidently (namecheck Kurt Vile and the Dandy Warhols) works insanely hard, and now it’s paying dividend in a big way. We suggest catching Courtney on the rest of her tour if you can, and we insist that you listen to the new album on loop (or at least your mum gets cross).
Tom Stockley is the founder and creative director of We Are Uncollective. He currently lives in Bristol where he dabbles in spoken word, artist management, workshops and event management. He's a Creative Producer for Under The Hill 2018.