Courtney Barnett – Gorilla, Manchester – 03/04/15

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The release of her debut album has caused the indie music press to go a little bit mad over Melbourne singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett, but on tonight’s evidence it’s entirely justified. Barnett and her band (named the Courtney Barnett Three in typically ad-hock fashion – I’m fairly sure they’ve been known as Courtney Barnett & the Courtney Barnetts in the past) took to the stage at Gorilla tonight, and it’s hard to imagine a more suitable venue for their particular brand of lo-fi grunge-pop. Located in an arch beneath a railway bridge, Gorilla can be a good, old-fashioned sweat-pit of a gig venue, and so tonight proved.

I sadly missed the opening act – Fraser A. Gorman – arriving just as he left the stage, but the second act – local boys Spring King – managed to get the place rocking. With a sound located somewhere between punk and surf, they are fairly unique in that their drummer is the lead vocalist. They had a great energy about them, both in their sound and stage presence, and certainly seemed to have most people onside by the end of their half hour set.

The Courtney Barnett Three took to the stage at nine. This was only my second time seeing Barnett. The first was playing to a crowd of people lazing on the grass in a field in Somerset. Needless to say, the atmosphere was somewhat different tonight. The venue was packed to capacity, and it quickly became clear that she’s already cultivated quite a dedicated following, as the words of the songs from her debut album Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit (which has only been out for a couple of weeks) were belted back at her from a large percentage of the audience. They opened with ‘Elevator Operator’ and ‘An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York)’ from the aforementioned album, before playing a couple of songs from her highly acclaimed EPs, including a scintillating rendition of ‘Are You Looking After Yourself?’.

The three of them are a very tight live unit, with bassist Bones Sloane and drummer Dave Mudie making up the trio. Between them they made a considerable racket. With only Barnett on guitar however, some of the subtlety of the record’s guitar parts were lost in a live setting, although it didn’t matter much in a venue like this. Raw energy was very much first on the menu, with subtlety rightly taking a back seat. It would be wrong to not give special credit to Mudie’s drumming; his pummelling of his kit was the driving force of the band’s sound throughout the gig.

Highlights included the thundering climax of ‘Small Poppies’ and a mass-singalong to ‘Depreston’. Barnett seemed delighted to hear her brilliantly droll observational lyrics roared back at her. The closing trio of ‘Avant Gardener’, ‘History Eraser’ and ‘Pedestrian at Best’ took the energy in the room to another level, with some enthusiastic pogoing occurring down at the front. You wouldn’t really associate Barnett’s recorded sound with that kind of energy, but the live sound had such a bite to it.

We were treated to what seemed like a genuinely spontaneous encore of The Easybeats’ ‘I’ll Make You Happy’, and The Velvet Underground’s ‘Sunday Morning’ blared out over the PA as we all left. It was an insanely fun and sweaty evening of music. I’m going to resist any vague platitudes about her being the best songwriter since *insert random lyricist here*, but what I will say is that her and her band are on top form live, and you should go and see them now while they’re still playing small venues.

Robert Banham