It’s a pretty amazing thing for aspiring indie rock artists that talented and hardworking acts like Courtney Barnett can rise up to the level of a Greek Theatre headliner in a matter of two albums.
After bumping around a couple of midlevel Aussie bands in the early 2010s, Barnett found she had all she needed in her own wondrous and unique brand of songwriting. When her first two solo EPs from 2012 and 2013 were bundled together as The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas, her career took off. By the time her first full-length record dropped Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit in 2015, she was already a household name in the indie scene — and had the performance chops to back it up.
When the third day of Governors Ball 2016 was cancelled, I chose Courtney’s free Rough Trade show over the other options that were offered. She was coming off a Saturday Night Live performance and was starting to break through. It was a packed house of bittersweet Williamsburg hipsters who you could sense were happy for her growing success but were maybe worried about losing her as their “hidden gem” to tell their friends.
And that’s how I imagine Courtney Barnett mostly grew to the level of headlining the Greek Theatre — word of mouth. Now touring in support of her second full-length, this year’s Tell Me How You Really Feel, the expansiveness of the venues are starting to match the depth of her sound. The stop at the Greek represented her biggest LA show to date, and she got a really good turnout.
Her live performances are like watching a hurricane knock around behind glass.
It’s also refreshing to see a godlike guitarist thrash around and occasionally miss a note while doing some serious rock star moves. That was most apparent on the punk banger “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch” a couple songs into the set.
One person I kept thinking of when watching Courtney Barnett play is Tom Petty. They feel like kindred spirits to me and Barnett has a similar knack for writing a hook. Looking around and watching people sing the wordy verses of “Avant Gardener” and “Elevator Operator” is a sight to behold. Barnett has written seemingly dozens of R.E.M. “It’s the End of the World” mouthfuls over her career, and the crowd loves it. It has something to do with the fact they’re all punctuated by heavy guitar riffs.
Later in the evening, Barnett brought out opening act Waxahatchee to do a cover of “Houses” by Elyse Weinberg. Barnett recorded the song as part of the Spotify Singles series earlier this year and the live presentation was killer. She followed with my favorite single from the new record “Charity”. That might be the best song ’90s rockers Gin Blossoms didn’t write and they should have.
Her encore included a cover of Gillian Welch’s “Everything is Free” about music piracy. “Someone hit the big score / They figured it out / That we’re gonna do it anyway / Even if doesn’t pay”. Courtney Barnett has always come across as someone who really enjoys being up on stage and engaging crowds with her music even if her banter is minimal.
That’s never more clear than when she plays “Pedestrian at Best”, which closed the show. By the time the chorus hits, Barnett is out of breath and is forced to shout the words — sometimes incoherently. It’s incredibly rock and roll in the least sanitized way.
While some music festival lineups would lead you to believe guitars are dead, acts like Courtney Barnett are part of the reason why rumors of the genre’s death are greatly exaggerated. And just think of all the young musicians out there currently drawing inspiration from her. It’s a good time to be a rock and roll fan.
Photos by Justin Haider