Courtney Barnett

Courtney Barnett


As the year draws to a close, Courtney Barnett can look back on it as being something of a successful one. The last twelve months has seen the release of her latest album Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit and the acclaim on the back of this release has stretched far and wide around the globe. Given her hectic schedule of the last year, you could forgive her for taking her foot off the gas and cruising through tonight’s set. That certainly wasn’t the case; there was as much intensity to her performance, as there was back in January when she started this run of dates around the globe.

Barnett’s compatriots Big Scary open the night and in their allotted 45 minutes, they prove what a talented band they are. The opening numbers are quite laid back and hypnotic, with something of an Alt J or XX vibe going on. There is a bit of the Jeff Buckley about their sound too. Just when you are about to pigeonhole them, they bring out the saxophone and turn the dial to funk. Let’s just say they are quite eclectic in their tastes. Lead singer, Tom Iansek did say it was an honour to play Manchester given the band’s love for many of the bands that have come from the city.

You can certainly hear those influences in their sound too. It is hard to pick favourite songs from their set, they are all good, but for me ‘Organism’ and ‘Consolation’ are the pick of the punch. The latter is possibly one of the best things I have heard live all year. It’s a funky little number that gets the crowd moving on the cold Manchester night. It’s always good to catch a decent support band every now and then. Big Scary are definitely a band I would like to hear more of in the future.

In little over a year, Courtney Barnett has gone from playing over the road at Gorilla to the bigger Ritz venue, again highlighting her rise over the past 12 months. She opens the night with ‘Avant Gardener’, a track about suffering an asthma attack while doing a spot of gardening. This is instantly recognised by the knowledgeable crowd and sung like it is an old favourite.

On ‘Small Poppies’ the three-piece band let loose for the first time that night and this is a feature of how the live sound is in comparison to on record. Tonight it builds to a distorted climax. It is always amazing to see a three-piece sound as powerful as they do.

Watching Barnett play is mesmerising. She’s not much bigger than the guitar, but she wields it with such precision. There is ferocity in the playing that you fear for the state of fingers at the end of the end, as she spent most of the night attacking her guitar without the aid a plectrum.

The crowd ably backed Barnett for a sing-a-long for ‘Depreston’, which is just beautiful. This rendition sums up the chilled-out laid-back vibe of the quieter numbers, which almost feels meditative standing here listening to it in the audience.

Despite the fierceness that she attacks the guitar, Courtney Barnett is an unassuming presence as she hides behind her fringe and seldom engages with the crowd. Though this reticence maybe as a result of not knowing how the set had been received by the Manchester crowd. “I feel like you having a bad night. I’m having trouble reading you.” She announces towards the end of the set. The cheers from the audience hopefully put her mind at ease that they had a great night. This prompts a number at the front to start pogoing, almost as though they feel they need to be more demonstrable in their appreciation.

She introduces ‘Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party’ as a Beatles cover and a pop song. It is more jangly, poppier number than the other songs in her set. The last number before the encore is a raucous version of ‘Pedestrian At Best’, that increased the intensity of the recorded version.

My wish for more from Big Scary is rewarded, as they returned to the stage for the encore with Barnett as they rattled through an energetic take of The Saints ‘Know Your Product’. They leave the stage and Courtney Barnett finishes off the night with ‘History Eraser’. Barnett leaves the stage to applause that competed with the howls of feedback emanating from her guitar that she had handed to someone standing at the front of the audience. The guitar is promptly snaffled back by a roadie, while the feedback still rages.

It was great night. Maybe the next time Manchester welcomes Barnett, it will be at the Academy or Apollo, as the upward trajectory of her career shows no sign of abating.

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