Courtney Barnett // O2 Academy, Leeds // 29.05.18

Courtney Barnett // O2 Academy, Leeds // 29.05.18

It was an Australian takeover at the O2 Academy, Leeds, with artist Courtney Barnett being supported by the banterous Aussie band, Loose Tooth. Barnett recently released her album Tell Me How You Really Feel; an honest exploration of her own feelings, self-doubt and gender-related issues.

There was only one featured support act, which perfectly complemented what was to come, with Loose Tooth being more focused on groove based interplay between the bass and the drums, contrasting Barnett’s guitar heavy tracks. Yet, when Barnett first walked on stage there was a surprise awaiting with the opening song, as she began to play the laid-back riff of ‘Hopefulessness’, the first track off Tell Me How You Really Feel. It was a pleasant surprise to discover that the new album was to be played in its entirety, a unique choice for the set-list, but considering the raving reviews of the new album, and the energy generated in the crowd by the tracks, this was a smart (and enjoyable) move. Whilst it did seem that the crowd was slightly mellow to being with, this soon changed as the upbeat ‘City Looks Pretty’ got everyone dancing. The crowd itself was a diverse bunch, from middle-aged fans having the time of their lives, to the younger indie crowd that, inevitably, teetered on the verge of moshing later in the set. Yet, it seemed all could enjoy Barnett’s music, which shows the diverse range of people that her music appeals to.  

Following the album almost chronologically at the beginning of the set, the audience was welcomed into a short taste of topically gendered tunes, such as ‘Nameless Faceless’. The honesty and brutal reality of her lyrics in the chorus seemed to resonate with the female members of the crowd, perhaps because they could relate to Barnett’s experiences. Whilst on this socially aware segment of the set-list, Barnett blast out ‘I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch’, a violent protest song, portraying the raw anger Barnett has clearly felt. The lighting made watching this song particularly memorable, as the sinister red lighting facing upwards upon her face contributed to the aggressive tone. We also got to experience something different through hearing Barnett play her songs live – the gritty side to her voice that isn’t evident on the recordings. Her raspy, exasperated voice was reminiscent of past female rock artists, with the raw energy being on level with older acts such as Hole. It felt as though we were being shown true, traditional rock – something that has been missing from the popular music scene for a while. Other influences are clear in her music however, as when the solo of the penultimate track off the recent album, ‘Walking On Eggshells’, was played, I was reminded of classic 90s era music such as Oasis. Overall, the insinuation of true rock within her set was almost refreshing to hear, with the honest vulnerability of Barnett’s music being undoubtedly better live.

Nevertheless, it was her guitar playing that really caught my eye. Seeing Barnett live really emphasised what a talented guitarist she really is. It was almost effortless how she played. It seemed that she had an unmethodical approach to playing, from her casual attitude playing with her fingers – as there was no pick in sight – to her unconventional strumming methods. There isn’t exactly a lack of guitar-heavy music being created right now, but Barnett really stands out as a skilled live guitarist. Her relaxed yet unique style of playing also matched her lyrics well, with the latter being more of a rambling stream of consciousness, a staple of her music. Barnett herself seemed quite introverted on stage, speaking to the crowd very little, but it seemed as though she was simply letting her music, and the sincerity of her lyrics, do the talking for her.

It wasn’t just the new album that we got to experience at the gig though, there was ‘old’ stuff too. It was at this point the crowd was at its energetic peak, as Barnett blast out songs from ‘Elevator Operator’ to ‘Pedestrian At Best’ – the latter featuring as the middle of the encore. Closing the show with ‘Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party’, a track off her first album Sometimes I Sit And Think, Sometimes I Just Sit, Barnett’s energising riff left the crowd in a state of exhilaration. This was the perfect ending to a night of impressive guitar playing, Aussie banter (lots of references to ‘slippery nipples’ by the support), and overall just some good tunes.

Sian Tipping