Concert Review: Courtney Barnett @ The Anthem (7/24/18)

Courtney Barnett
Courtney Barnett (Photo Credit: Danny Clinch)

If you missed Courtney Barnett’s stellar show at The Anthem, recover from your hopefulessness and depreston with a few words.

Tell Me How You Really Feel is Courtney’s second solo album. She played most of the album, in order, and blew the roof off The Anthem (sorry people swimming in the pool above) with her heartfelt brand of alternative rock.

For any writer, it’s easy to share an affinity with Courtney Barnett’s songwriting acumen. From Australia, her song titles and lyrics are wry or witty or just plainly state obvious, everyday things. In other words, they are exactly what they should be, and not a spare word more. Every writer can understand keenly a song title like “Crippling Self Doubt and a General Lack of Self Confidence”, and be moved by the repeating, sing songy chorus ‘I don’t know, I don’t know anything’.

The joy in listening to Courtney Barnett’s songs is not just that they are clever or spot on in terms of emotional discovery, but also that they dig deep with a resonate, grungy sound that grabs hold of you and shakes you awake. During the show the roving lights bathed The Anthem in deep and powerful colors, enhancing the mood for each song. I was quite taken with the green and blue.

The album versions of each song exudes a more reserved sound, while in front of the expectant Anthem crowd, Courtney and her three backing band members tore up the stage with furious riffs and just downright righteous rock. I left with a completely new appreciation for her music and can’t wait to see her live again.

There was something in the air that night, and it wasn’t Phil Collins.

Courtney started perfectly with “Hopefulessness”, also the opening track from Tell Me, introducing us to the dichotomy of living with conflicting feelings, possibly the central theme of the night. “City Looks Pretty” could be about living in DC, on a rainy day. She performed 9 of the 10 songs from Tell Me in the order they’re presented on the album (get me a copy!), mixing in a few other songs from her first album along the way. Like “Avant Gardner”, which is ‘adrenaline straight to the heart’, and “Small Poppies”, which grows into a blistering live rock anthem as it progresses.

Courtney didn’t spend time chatting with the crowd, she focused on the music. I was able to move around The Anthem easily enough for different perspectives during her 19 song set, as it unfortunately wasn’t quite a sell out. This was her second show at The Anthem, the first came in 2017 touring with Kurt Vile (they also collaborated on an album called Lotta Sea Lice).

Digression moment for writers: Courtney’s first album title is Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit.

The new jangly song “Nameless Faceless” felt especially powerful as an ode to our misguided perceptions of each other, where humanity can be found even in anger. A lesson, perhaps, for us here in the USA as we navigate our current political landscape.

The funky “Sunday Roast”, the last track on Tell Me, where Courtney wistfully encouraged ‘I know you’re doing your best, I think you’re doing just fine’. Things may look bad but everything will be okay.

Coming back for a two-song encore, she left us with “Pedestrian at Best” and, now as I watched from the main floor, the whole place went crazy under the force of a deluge of beats and color. Smiles were present. Dancing was natural. Depreston was gone. Everything was okay.

Setlist
Hopefulessness
City Looks Pretty
Charity
Need a Little Time
An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepness in New York)
Avant Gardener
Nameless, Faceless
I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch
Crippling Self Doubt and a General Lack of Self Confidence
Small Poppies
Elevator Operator
Depreston
Out of the Woodwork
Help Your Self
Sunday Roast
Kim’s Caravan
History Eraser

Encore
Anonymous Clue
Pedestrian at Best

So much color!
Colors! Courtney Barnett @ The Anthem (7/24/18) (Photo Credit: Jeremy Bailey)

Author: Jeremy Bailey

Writer and editor living in Washington, D.C.

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