REVIEW: Courtney Barnett at 02 Academy Birmingham

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After receiving critical acclaim for her first album and the adulation of a worldwide audience, Courtney Barnett’s progress hasn’t derailed in the slightest.

To describe Courtney Barnett’s rise as meteoric would perhaps be undermining the respectable and hard-earned nature of her success up to now. Off the back of the Aussie singer-songwriter’s second album she’s launched a lengthy tour and brought this live show to Birmingham’s 02 Academy on Monday night.

As she came out to an expectant crowd, it was clear we may be seeing the emergence of a slightly different act from the one that existed around the time of Barnett’s first record, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit.

She set herself amongst her casual band and started to sing under a super-cool lighting and curtain arrangement that echoed more of old Hollywood glamour than suburban Melbourne.

But as she began to sing, we got the first taste of why we were all there – she confidently opened with slow and considered numbers, laden with her trademarked observational and witty lyrics.

It is hard to put Barnett in a box, yet there are so many artists with which the thirty-one year-old Australian shares attributes. There’s the husky and languid vocal of Sheryl Crow, the folk/rock soul of compatriot Paul Kelly, and the social commentary of a young Dylan.

All these are impressive comparisons, but it’s unlikely that Barnett would let them faze her. She gets on with her job with minimal fuss, allowing the songs to speak for themselves. In the middle portions of the gig she dials up the tempo with tracks off the latest album, Tell Me How You Really Feel.

Songs like ‘Nameless Faceless’ and ‘I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch’ seemed to sum up a more rounded rock sound – and a more outward looking attitude seems to have been adopted in this new material, with less of the introspection of the first album.

There was even a foray into straight indie-pop when, with help from support act Laura Jean, we were treated to a cover of The Go-Betweens hit, ‘Streets of Your Town’.

The final portion of the set saw the Birmingham crowd enthusiastically singing and swaying to some of Barnett’s most well-loved songs, but she kept them guessing by continually varying the pace.

Up-tempo hits such as ‘Elevator Operator’ and ‘Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party’ really got the crowd going, before she ended a well-received encore with the classic ‘Pedestrian at Best’. “Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you” goes the first line of the chorus. Well, Courtney, you did not.

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