mon 04/03/2024

Courtney Barnett, Albert Hall, Manchester review - mesmerising indie-rock set | reviews, news & interviews

Courtney Barnett, Albert Hall, Manchester review - mesmerising indie-rock set

Courtney Barnett, Albert Hall, Manchester review - mesmerising indie-rock set

Slacker-rock queen is anything but slack in blistering performance

Put her on a pedestal and she won't disappoint you

Although once famous for her Australian drawl and hazy jams, on her most recent album Tell Me How You Really Feel, Courtney Barnett has transformed herself into an all-singing indie star, resulting in something more assured, vulnerable, and intense than her previous work. Touring the UK with her band of Bones Sloan, Dave Mudie and Katie Harkin, her 19-song set in Albert Hall in Manchester is faultless.

Barnett starts by playing Tell Me How You Really Feel in its entirety. The reflective songs sound hefty and visceral live. The delicate “Need A Little Time Out” rests on chugging guitars and steadily building drums which blossom in the morose chorus, and “Nameless Faceless” is especially pounding with “women are scared men will kill them” acting as a feminist rallying call when chanted by the 2,000-strong audience. The more discordant songs, like album opener “Hopefulessness” and “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch”, fill the space with the sludgy distortion oozing from Barnett’s guitar, while her manic vocals on the latter are at once terrifying and terrified.

After the relatively laid-back “Sunday Roast”, Barnett launches into a run of hits from her other two solo releases, 2015’s Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit and her breakthrough compilation, The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas, starting with a warm rendition of “Avant Gardner”. Barnett’s wry observations on asthmatics living in the suburbs slide over the lazily shifting soundscapes created by the band; it’s entertaining and intoxicating.

“Elevator Operator” is another highlight. The song is both urgent and restrained, almost brimming over to panic in the pre-chorus before the chorus marches in with a sunny Sixties pop simplicity. Perhaps the most touching moment of the night comes in “Depreston”, where the audience unprompted takes over backing vocal duties without any semblance of hysteria or drunkenness. Especially in the church-like setting, it feels like the crowd are singing a hymn, as if they were Barnett’s enraptured choir.

For the encore, she starts with the lengthy, balladesque “Anonymous Club”, making the audience wait for the inevitable gig closer: “Pedestrian at Best”, in all its catchy glory. The audience are putty in her strumming hands, and given Barnett’s theatrically wide-eyed expression throughout, she’s more than happy to give them the blend of wit and heartbreak they want.

The colours on stage – Barnett’s all-black attire and the red-heavy stage lighting – are consistent with the Tell Me How You Really Feel album cover. It all feels deliberate. She’s a woman on a mission, to turn the mundane into something spectacular, and the gig only confirms something that Tell Me How You Really Feel had merely hinted at: Barnett, armed with her much-loved lyricism and considered new sound, is ready for world domination.

the lazily shifting soundscapes created by the band are entertaining and intoxicating


Editor Rating: 
Average: 5 (1 vote)

Share this article

Add comment


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters