Courtney Barnett at The Roundhouse - Review
There was no better time for Courtney Barnett to headline her biggest ever show at London’s Roundhouse. A few weeks after the release of her acclaimed second album Tell Me How You Really Feel, Melbourne’s (and perhaps the world’s?) best singer-songwriter owns the night at her biggest venue yet.
Handpicked by Courtney herself, support comes in the form of Loose Tooth, a three-piece also from Australia. Not to be confused with Loose Tooth from Philadelphia, Loose Tooth from Melbourne bring their lo-fi, bedroom-pop aesthetic to the Roundhouse with gusto. A sharp juxtaposition permeates their whole set--this is the type of music that sounds best in a 100-capacity venue or a laid-back pub; hook-filled and soft. Instead, their songs are forced to fill the Roundhouse, and whilst a big challenge, the trio manage it. In-between songs, the band offer comfortable, charismatic commentary, and speak to the crowd like they’re casual friends. Whilst they may only be playing pubs at home, they’ve got a lot to come upon the release of their debut full-length in August, via Milk!, the home of Courtney Barnett. Similar to acts such as PINS, Willie J Healey, and Soccer Mommy, the new rise of bedroom pop, however terrible its moniker, will only be strengthened with the addition of Loose Tooth.
After a cool-down rather than warm-up supporting set, Courtney Barnett takes to the stage wordlessly. Opening with album starter ‘Hopefulessness’, it’s clear from the get-go that this is as personal an album as everyone is saying it is. Whilst technically perfect, the performance has a sense of realism, of pure emotion. As she performs the album in order, it strikes me as odd--never before have I seen an artist play their album in its entirely in its original tracklisting. Perhaps I’m just living in the dark, or perhaps I’m right--is this as odd as I think it is? We’re taken through each era of the record, taken through each fight, each good day, each bad one. It isn’t until the fourth song of the show that we get a single, and then it is immediately followed by another. ‘Need A Little Time’ is as affecting live as it is recorded--actually, even more so. I’ve said this before and I’ll no doubt say it again; the sense of palpable emotion is overwhelming. There’s something intimately special about Tell Me How You Really Feel, and Courtney does a phenomenal job of bringing that sincerity to a room of over 4,000 strangers.
The decision to play the entire new record in order before playing any old songs is strange, but one that I feel is right. As I said in my review of Tell Me How You Really Feel (which you can read here), nothing from Tell Me How You Really Feel would sound right on Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, and vice-versa. Tell Me is the yin to Sometimes I Sit’s yang, the night to Sometimes I Sit’s day, the older Courtney to Sometimes I Sit’s younger Courtney. Consequently, it seems only correct that the songs from the two eras of Courtney’s songwriting stay separate. Because, whilst it’s a natural maturation and an evolution, it’s not one that sounds natural together.
In the second half of the set, Courtney brings out the oldies--‘Small Poppies’, ‘Depreston’, ‘Avant Gardener’, ‘Elevator Operator’, and my personal favourite of her songs, ‘History Eraser’. Through the witty micro-observations of her earlier lyrics and the hook-heavy danceability of most of them, it is here the gig really comes alive. Probably because Tell Me How You Really Feel is so intrinsically introspective, it’s more of an observational experience than an interactive one; which is, not by a long shot, a bad thing.
In the encore, Courtney plays ‘Anonymous Club’ from her 2013 double EP A Sea of Split Peas, and radio favourite ‘Pedestrian At Best’. It’s this song that contains the lyric “Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you”. Well, Courtney, as I said in my Instagram caption, I’ve been putting you on a pedestal since 2014 and you have not disappointed me just yet.
I reckon Courtney Barnett is like a fine wine, as they say; destined to only get better with age, there’s so much more to come from one of music’s most interesting and original songwriters, and her killer set at London’s Roundhouse only proves that.