Courtney Barnett‘s last visit to Manchester was a bit of an odd affair. The Ritz crowd were a particularly reticent bunch that evening and the economical response Barnett was getting back from the full house during the early stages of the show were clearly winding her up until she eventually exclaimed that we were a difficult audience to read and she wasn’t having a particularly good time on stage. This honesty, a particular feature of her laid-back garage punk, seemed to spark some life into her fans and the evening ended with a blistering performance of ‘History Eraser’. Would a venue change, tonight’s more compact Albert Hall, see Courtney in a bit of a better mood?
Accompanying her on this tour are fellow Australians Loose Tooth. The trio are signed to Barnett’s Melbourne-based label Milk! Records and plough a similar furrow to their muse, fusing laid back power-pop tendencies with a punkier attitude and blithely veracious lyrics that make for a fun, extended forty minute set. In-between these melodically spiky songs, guitarist Nellie Jackson informs us about wet pussies (an Australian cocktail, apparently), camel toes and sweaty necks before finally revealing that she had played the entire show with her flies down! You get the idea – Loose Tooth don’t take things too seriously, serving up a wicked aperitif of melodic punk before the main course tonight.
New album Tell Me How You Really Feel is better than debut Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit and there is a buzz in Albert Hall as Barnett ambles on to the stage. There’s a natural progression to her style musically on the new record, a more satisfying frankness perhaps and she clearly has an intimate association with the collection of songs because she has decided to present the record in full on this tour. This is a brave decision. An album has a narrative to it which may not be ideal for a live show and there is evidence once again that the Manchester crowd are not completely engaged with the flow of the first half of the evening.
A dark, menacing red light floods the stage as ‘Hopefulessness’ rumbles into our consciousness, establishing the more serious character of the album, before the reds are over-powered by a tsunami of over-saturated colours for the brilliantly melodic ‘City Looks Pretty’. ‘Charity’ maintains this brisk intro which has an almost hypnotic quality on the crowd; there’s warm applause but once again there is a reticence from the multifarious crowd and the more deliberate ‘Need a Little Time’ doesn’t help. It’s a brilliant track, performed gracefully, but it doesn’t seem to get the crowd going. Surely ‘I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch’ will embolden this Manchester crowd. Darkness falls, the red mist returns and Courtney Barnett violently tears through the song, a savage onslaught of power that threatens to sever her vocal chords in two. It is a musical juggernaut and thrilling to watch but it still doesn’t have that emancipating effect on the crowd; we’re too entranced by Barnett’s own liberation.
This track signals a violent peak on the record and we return to a more canorous style with ‘Crippling Self Doubt and a General Lack of Self Confidence’ and ‘Help Your Self’ and these more self-deprecating songs with their more amiable rhythms and bluesy spirit seems to get the crowd moving. By the time the mellow ‘Sunday Roast’ finally washes over us all, Courtney Barnett appears to have finally got the crowd in a good place. This is the final track on the record and we’re treated to a bevy of her older tracks from this point on, which the crowd now lap up with glee. Tracks like ‘Elevator Operator’ have undergone subtle transformations, with Katie Harkin providing brilliantly vivid organ tones which prove to be the cohesive glue for the entire track before a delicious ‘Depreston’ generates a wonderfully warm singalong that Courtney Barnett seems to really appreciate. So, once again we finally get to the place we all wanted to be and it eventually feels like we have earned the crunching ‘Pedestrian at Best’ for the final encore.
COURTNEY BARNETT’S NEW ALBUM, TELL ME HOW YOU REALLY FEEL, IS OUT NOW.
Photos: Iain Fox – see more in our gallery here.