On a sold -out stage at the O2 Academy Brixton flooded with vibrant light, Courtney Barnett kicked off her show with songs from her newest album, “Tell Me How You Really Feel”. Opening sets from Laura Jean and Rolling Blackout C.F had already fired up the crowd by the time Barnett arrived on stage, exuding the laid-back attitude her music so often evokes. Backed by her three-piece band comprised of drummer, Dave Mudie, bassist, Bones Sloane, and Katie Harkin on both keyboard and guitar, Courtney twirled across the stage in a manner that recall Kurt Cobain’s performances at their best.
Since the release of her debut album in 2013, the Australian singer-songwriter has been turning heads in the music industry. Over time, her sound has become more rough, embracing garage-rock influences, yet it still maintains its witty lyricism. Courtney Barnett’s lyrics function as a diary, drawing the audience into her personal world with humorous anecdotes and meaningful insights on mental health issues.
Courtney Barnett’s set covered the whole range and scope of her output from loud garage songs like I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch to Avant Gardener, a more melodic tune. The songs from “Tell Me How You Really Feel”, combine Courtney’s simultaneously soft and raspy voice with angry lyrics, with a disarming and engrossing result. For example, Nameless, Faceless perfectly encapsulates the everyday anxieties of the female experience. The singer describes holding her keys between her fingers because she is scared to walk alone in the dark. Her strong message layered over grungy guitar solos complete the image of Barnett as an old-school badass with a vulnerable side.
Powerful, anger-fuelled songs were juxtaposed with more lighthearted fare such as her new single Small Talk, a cynical and comedic take on daily conversation, which shows that Barnett doesn't always feel pressured to relentlessly tackle darker issues.
In a solo unaccompanied encore, the singer played a cover of Gillian Welch’s Everything is Free, which has recently seen a revival through Barnett and her fellow lyricist Father John Misty, who recently recorded a cover of the song for Spotify Studio Sessions. With lines such as “They figured it out /That we're gonna do it anyway/ Even if doesn't pay”, Everything is Free carries a message about the financial and creative exploitation of musicians that is very relevant today, maybe more than ever.
The show was beautiful, tonally varied and engaging, full of the clever expression and strong guitar riffs that have won Courtney Barnett so many listeners. The show was effortlessly entertaining yet understated enough to give the singer room to showcase the things that she is best at. Courtney Barnett is the friend we all need, telling us that “no one really cares if you go to the party” and reminding everyone that we shouldn’t take ourselves quite so seriously.