Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett are a perfect pair at Royal Oak
Just four days before her birthday, Australian Scorpio and, perhaps more importantly, musician Courtney Barnett made a stop in Royal Oak for a show with American rock’n’roller Kurt Vile, on tour in support of their collaborative album, Lotta Sea Lice. Released in early October, the album came as a relative surprise, an eventual product of Barnett and Vile’s recent friendship which bloomed after they met on the festival circuit last summer. Consisting of almost the entirety of Lotta Sea Lice, as well as hits from each of the duo’s solo discography, their performance on Oct. 30 was conversational and relaxed, much like the album itself. As the two wound the audience through their folk-rock musings, it became evident that the collaboration between them was just as much authentic friendship as it was an exercise in musicianship.
Barnett and Vile, supported by the Sea Lice — Janet Weiss, Stella Mozgawa, Rob Laakso and Katie Harkin — opened with the first several songs off the album, in order. The two are charismatic but unassuming, both with their unkempt brown hair and quiet manner. Few words were spoken between songs, but watching the two interact onstage spoke volumes. When they played their fifth song, leading single “Continental Breakfast,” Barnett and Vile shared a not-so-furtive smile as they harmonized on its final lyric, as if perhaps they had stumbled over the moment numerous times in rehearsing it. There was a spontaneity to the act, and the sense that it was involuntary for each of them evidenced joy at its most carefree and honest.
Similar moments characterized the rest of the show, as the audience was treated to more than a performance, but a window into the friendship between two of the greatest lyricists of the day. “This song is about wakin’ up, and smelling your bandmate in the bunk next to you,” Vile playfully jabbed at Barnett before one song. Later, he thanked her for “taking him on tour,” an act of subtle deference that hinted at the deep sense of mutual respect between the two.
Aside from their banter, Barnett and Vile’s interactions within the music itself was fascinating. Vile on lead guitar for Barnett’s “Depreston” and “Avant Gardener” gave the songs a new, more spacious dimension while Barnett’s support on Vile’s “Life Like This” and “Pretty Pimpin’” contributed a subtle edge. The synergy between the two performers — as well as the Sea Lice — ultimately made for an engrossing, and thoroughly wholesome, evening of music. It’s unclear whether this is a one-off collaboration or just the first installment. Regardless, this is one intercontinental friendship you shouldn’t miss.