Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Over, Down Under, and Sideways With Courtney Barnett

08 AUGUST, 2014
...True story: Was lounging at Origami Vinyl in Echo Park, when the man on the counter started something new. A languid late night groove wormed its way into my head, and then that voice came in: "I was busy underwater/Seeing how long I could hold my breath..." It rambled on, seeming stream of conciousness, but acutely observed. The music was off kilter, full of delicate touches, but my heart was won when the drums rumbled in at the end, like a train passing in the desert.
By the middle of the third song, "Avant Gardener", a shaggy dog story seeded with guitar squeals, it was so right I was laughing out loud.
 I made the counter, pointing at the sound system: 
"I'll have THAT!".
"No, you won't..." Our man replied trimly, "It's not out yet..."
I finally got my paws on a copy of Courtney Barnett's Double EP: A Sea Of Split Peas...and the rest is history.
Having made the mad dash to the desert a few times this year, the best part is when you depart I-10 and begin the climb up Highway 62 towards Joshua Tree. Veering off at Yucca Valley sent me once again out the road to Pioneertown. Pappy and Harriet's Pioneertown Palace has become a home away from home, and the roadhouse provides an intimate, sweaty, and often raucous place to catch a show.
The question was how the atmospheric songs of Courtney Barnett would hold up live. Taking a different tack, (no doubt learned in the pubs of Australia), she went for the Volume Dealer approach, turning the songs inside out, and blasting them full on, with the aid and comfort of her rhythm section, bassist Bones Sloane and drummer Dave Mudie. Turns out Courtney Barnett is a rock star...pretty much the same dichotomy one faced when seeing Lucinda Williams in the early 90's: going in with a folk mindset, and getting hammered with a Stonesy riff-fest. The best possible surprise, to be honest.
Courtney earned her keep before even hitting the stage, ghosting onstage to grab one of the opening band's guitars to fix a busted string. When their appointed time arrived, as if prodded on by the ominous Supermoon overhead, the band opened with a swaggering "David", then dropped into "Lance, Jr". Things came fully alive with "Are You Looking After Yourself", the template of the live transition, ending in a hail of feedback. Excepting the opener, the first half leaned heavily on her first EP: I've Got A Friend Called Emily Ferris, and her latest: How To Carve A Carrot Into A Rose yielded the bulk of the second half, including an impressive run through "Don't Apply Compression Gently" and a velvet glove/iron fist take on "Out Of The Woodwork" setting up "Avant Gardener", her best-received/most notorious song that gave way to the stomping set closer "History Eraser".
On the final steps of a US tour promoting A Sea Of Split Peas, out on her own Milk! Records in Australia, internationally on House Anxiety/Marathon Artists, and here in the States on Mom and Pop Records, Courtney Barnett and the Courtney Barnetts more than made their case. With a new album in the can, save for final tweaking, it'll be fun to see where she heads next. I can't say enough about her rhythm section; they give her the ideal springboard to work off of, and when pressed, they're modest to a fault. While the EP's allowed Barnett to work with a sprawling cast, there's definitely a chemistry with this trio, and I look forward to seeing it exploited.

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