Thursday, 22 November 2018

Memories of 2018 gigs #9

Courtney Barnett
Support: Laura Jean
Great Hall, Cardiff University - 18 November 2018

I don't like the Great Hall, and neither does MrsRobster. It's probably the second-worst venue in Cardiff after the Motorpoint Arena. I usually have to think twice before booking tickets to see someone there as it's often a disappointing and frustrating experience. But I couldn't resist the lure of Courtney Barnett, one of the finest young singer-songwriters in the world right now and my favourite Australian after a certain Mr Cave.

First on though was Laura Jean, a fellow Aussie whose debut album 'Devotion' has picked up a fair number of plaudits. It seems she usually plays with a band, but tonight she was completely solo, only a keyboard, an i-Pad and a sax for company. She played songs from aforementioned album but at no point did she make me want to investigate her further. It was all very one-dimensional, very melancholic and, sorry to say it, really rather dull.

Maybe a full band line-up would have made it more interesting, and maybe a smaller, better venue would also have helped, but as it is, Laura Jean's set prompted MrsRobster to quip: "At least that lot we saw the other night (she means the bloody awful HMLTD) entertained me. I've looked at my watch three times already."

Since her brilliant song Avant Gardener brought Courtney Barnett to prominence over here, she's gone from strtength-to-strength. She's now put out two superb albums, her latest 'Tell Me How You Really Feel' is one of my most listened to records of 2018. She's also polished up her live performances. The addition of a second guitarist/keyboard player fleshes out her sound somewhat, and her setlist has been refined. She can pile on the crowdpleasers (Nameless Faceless, Elevator Operator, and the wonderful Depreston) while also throwing in a few lesser-known early gems like History Eraser and Anonymous Club as well as a new song.

While my favourite track from her new album Need A Little Time was an undoubted personal highlight, two of the biggest standouts were cover versions. Firstly, Laura Jean and her sax joined Courtney onstage to duet on a lovely version of Streets Of Your Town by everyone's go-to Australian band The Go-Betweens. But topping that was the first song of the encore. Courtney appeared alone to play Gillian Welch's Everything Is Free, a comment on the raw deal musicians get from the online communities. Originally written about Napster, the song has recently been adopted by numerous artists to protest against the paltry returns they receive from streaming companies like Spotify and Tidal. Courtney's plaintive solo take was spine-tingling and served to prove that her rise is completely justified. One minute she's playing squally extended Neil Young-esque guitar jams, the next she can bring a rather noisy crowd to a complete hush.

The Great Hall is a rubbish place to see bands (if you can see at all - it has one of the worst views from the floor), but occasionally someone makes you pleased to be there. Courtney Barnett has something that sets her apart from her peers, that's for sure. Expect her rise to continue unabated.

1 comment:

  1. Great review. Swc.

    Oh and I quite like HMLTD. I'm told the HM stands for Happy Meal and that when they emerged a few years back their manager deliberately arranged them for April 1st so that everyone thought they were a joke.