Thursday, March 19, 2015

No Sitting/No Thinking: Courtney Barnett Live LP Premiere

13 MARCH, 2015
After last summer's revelatory show at Pappy and Harriet's in Pioneertown, during idle chat with her rhythm section, Bones Sloane and Dave Mudie, I expressed pleasure that the show livelier than I was expecting from the LP...Bones positively bubbled: "Wait 'til you hear the new album...", which I chalked up to being on the home side, but now have a much deeper appreciation for his enthusiasm. We also touched on their thoughts on their forthcoming appearance at SF's Outsidelands Festival, which the band handled with ease. Now into the new year, that brings us current...

With the approach of her new album's release looming, Courtney Barnett showed off Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit, (out on Mom + Pop Music in the States), with four invite-only listening parties around the world, covering Sydney, Melbourne, London, and a sole stateside appearance in LA. Friday the 13th didn't seem to faze her in the least, as she set up base camp at Dilettante in downtown LA. Expanding the confines beyond a mere listening party, the gallery was set up to display her "Chair" series of sketches, along with photos taken by Tajette O'Halloran during the studio sessions. Taking form as the trio version of the Courtney Barnetts, herself accompanied by drummer Dave Mudie and bassist Bones Sloane, they blew through the entire LP, track for track, in a spare, open space enlivened by projections of the artwork of Celeste Potter, who did the honors on Barnett's "Anonymous Club" video. Fellow Milk! Records artist Fraser A. Gorman took care of the opening duties, and he seemed intent on making his first trip to LA memorable. Highlights from his set included opener "Book Of Love" and an emotional reading of "Dark Eyes".

The band hit the stage, and with little fanfare, they slammed into the one/two opening punch of shaggy dog story "Elevator Operator" and first single "Pedestrian At Best". The first thought was of the overall comfort level of the band, and as much as I love the EP's, the consistency of sound brings back visions of Elvis Costello and the Attractions, circa This Year's Model, when the band was bedded in, and the songs just vibrated, exuding an urgency far and above his debut. "An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless In New York)", while lyrically as advertised, was given a joyful rendition by Courtney. As the journey through the album progressed, intensity was the watchword, captured most notably in the harrowing "Small Poppies". Coming off the fiery conclusion, the band settle into "Depreston", with Barnett executing ornery guitar lines at the end. Dave and Bones backing vocals were more pronounced than on the recorded version, and the chemistry really clicks when they all sing together. Midway through, Barnett lost the use of her own monitor, but barely registered a shrug, and soldiered on, harkening back to last year's show, when she snuck onstage and restrung the opening band's guitar after a mishap.

"Aqua Profunda!" was introduced as "a song about swimming", and indeed, it was a song about swimming. With the typical Barnett subtexts, of course. "Dead Fox" once again hones what we could consider The Courtney Tradition, boiling up dizzying wordplay out of little more than throwaway lines and a chorus lifted from a truck's safety sticker to conjure a mortality meditation. Drummer Dave Mudie stepped up to the plate and made his presence felt during the driving "Nobody Really Cares If You Don't Go To The Party". "Debbie Downer" continued the uptempo stomp mode, setting up the grand finale. Following the "Small Poppies" template, "Kim's Caravan" turned a moody dirge with a "going up the river to see Col. Kurtz vibe" into transcendent guitar fireworks that served as the full bands farewell, and they went out on a high note, leaving the stage to Courtney for the heart-tugging ballad, "Boxing Day Blues", and she drew out the last notes, finally quieting the hum of the industry crowd, forcing them to lean forward, rapt.

Going in, I thought it would strictly be a "listening party", not a show, and it turned out to be much more than that...let's call it a sort of homecoming. With that for a warmup, the band will be moving on to turn heads in Austin at SXSW. They'll return to the US for some high profile festivals, including Sasquatch, and a return to LA in the company of Seattle's Chastity Belt at the end of May. Many thanks to Dilettante LA, Milk! Records, and Mom + Pop Music for the stellar hospitality and an unforgettable evening.


Special appearance from John the Sound Guy


Behold...the chairs...

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