With her award-winning album ‘Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit’ appearing in most album of the year lists (including ours), Courtney Barnett’s appearance before a sold out Forum was obviously highly anticipated.
For someone with so much momentum behind her, Barnett is refreshingly unassuming. When I first listened to the album I fell in love with the way she almost speaks her lyrics, talking you through her wry observations on the big and small events in life. I wasn’t sure how the record, which often feels so intimate, would translate to a large London stage.
She begins by warming the crowd up slowly with ‘Avant Gardener’ – her stream of consciousness on struggling to breathe while trying to tend to her garden. This one isn’t on the album and, while a few people are absorbed from the off, it feels like the rest of the crowd aren’t quite on board yet. You could argue that starting with a livelier track from the album might have been better, but I think she succeeds in tantalising the audience before jumping into the summery swing of ‘Dead Fox’ and then the whirling ‘Small Poppies’.
Her live performance brings new life to her musings. Her breathtaking shredding is complemented perfectly by the other members of the CB3 collective – Dave Mudie on drums and Andrew “Bones” Sloane on bass – and also by the impressive animations that play out on the screen behind them. The rockier live sound is lapped up by the contingent in the pit who shout back every word, even when Barnett’s guitar is screaming so loud you can hardly hear her vocals.
She doesn’t say much, instead letting her songs do the talking. She introduces ‘Aqua Profonda!’ by asking the crowd if anyone likes swimming. It’s awkwardly charming. When Sloane tells the crowd that she is celebrating hearing that she has received three ARIA (Australian Record Industry Association) Awards for Best Female Artist, Breakthrough Artist and Best Independent Release she looks embarrassed and quickly moves them into the next song. But, whether she realises it or not, it’s clear that she has captivated the room. By the time she is singing the sublime line of “put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you” from ‘Pedestrian At Best’ there are items of clothing being thrown onto the stage.
It’s rare that an artist can live up to so much expectation but, with her lyrics inspired by everyday life and her unpretentious performance style, Courtney Barnett proves herself to be utterly exceptional.
Photos © Rhiannon Ormerod