Courtney Barnett may not have a would-have-been-well-deserved Best New Artist Grammy, but her sold-out performance at the Majestic Theater on Wednesday night displayed a level of talent and range that should’ve made her a shoe-in. Barnett, on guitar, played with only one drummer and one bassist, comprising a trio that rocked as hard as a band twice their size.
The entire set had a campy feel, framed by Barnett’s uncanny ability to tell stories through her lyrics, while finding screwball poignancy in life’s banalities The show’s aura was further enabled by clear lights wrapped around the drum set’s vertical posts and the accompanying graphics projected both on Barnett, her band and the large screen behind them. The “Ren and Stimpy”-esque animations setting the scene for the show, constantly moving and morphing in shape and color, were oddly reminiscent of a more nuanced iteration of the vibes Miley Cyrus and Wayne Coyne have been feeling as of late; however, Barnett’s encapsulation found itself on much sturdier ground sonically. Ranging from, a cartoon highway collision between a truck-driving shark and a fox in a four door during opener “Dead Fox” to an indiscernible green blob, the animations consistently felt thematically intertwined with their corresponding songs.
But make no mistake, the trippy, sometimes zone-out-inducing visuals were merely an accessory to the music. Barnett pulled the majority of the songs from her two studio efforts, the double EP A Sea of Split Peas and her debut LP Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit. Saying what was probably less than ten words to the crowd throughout the set, Barnett let her music do the talking, often opting for a quiet “OK” before starting the next song. The minimal interaction, didn’t seem bug the crowd (an eccentric mix of mothers, fathers, head-banging rockbros, college students and everyone in between) though, speaking the the spark of genius that Barnett has infused into her keen, observational lyricism.
Barnett took the stage shortly after 10 p.m. and rolled through, “Dead Fox,” “Scotty Says” and “Debbie Downer,” keeping the energy high before lulling the crowd into an attentive haze with “An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York)” as a haphazard blue and red landscape of a New York bridge is shown through the projector. Speeding up and slowing down with the song’s instrumentals, the graphics further energized the track’s guitar-centric movements and echoed the dead-pan lyrical delivery. “Depreston” slowed the show down to it’s slowest point, but the slight build during the six repetitions of “If you’ve got a spare half a million, you could knock it down and start rebuilding” was a highlight of the show, garnering mass audience participation — almost as much as Barnett’s self-awareness anthem, “Pedestrian at Best.” After an Evan Dando-assisted cover of “Being Around” by The Lemonheads, Barnett closed the show with her most recent single, “Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party.”
It’s not the most personable show, but that doesn’t take away an ounce of relatability that’s lended from the vivid human experiences detailed in the lyrics and the silly, but intriguing visuals. Not to mention, Barnett’s guitar skills are unreal; along with her band, Courtney Barnett displays on one of modern rock’s most stimulating tours to match her one-of-a-kind sound.