TVD Live Shots: Courtney Barnett
with Bartees Strange
at The Theatre at Ace Hotel, 12/9

PHOTOS: JULIA LOFSTRAND | With so much music out there right now, it seems that anyone with a computer can soapbox their way onto a stage. With overdeveloped artists reliant on every industry professional but themselves, POVS have become diluted and less thought-provoking. But, if anything, it’s just a reflection of our instant gratification culture. However, for a stripped down artist such as Courtney Barnett, it’s the bare essentials: simple guitar chords and lyrics that shine.

Courtney Barnett was the artist I wanted to cover most this year. With my sixth sense gnawing at me that this show was not to be missed, I went into high alert when tickets went on sale. Low on funds, credit card in hand, housing or no housing, just in case I couldn’t cover it, I bought tickets like any serious music aficionado would have done.

The moment had arrived. I settled into my seat in awe at the 3-story, restored 1920s ethereal Spanish gothic venue built by Mary Pickford and Charlie Chaplin. I’ve been to The Theatre at the Ace several times and it’s like viewing any great work of art—you find something new to admire each time. As it now stands in 2021 with LED lights reflecting on its ornate sunburst dome, it’s an otherworldly place to see the current generation make history.

Opener Bartees Strange, similar to Courtney Barnett with his renegade orientation to music, weaved in-and-out of emo, punk, rap, alternative, and ’90s R&B genres as he exhibited to the audience that he does not ascribe to a single vision for himself as he played songs from his debut release Live Forever. When he got down on both knees and stayed there for the duration of his cover of The National’s “About Today,” he had my attention. Anyone who knows me knows the fealty I swear to The National.

As soon as Courtney Barnett took the stage, she did a quick study of the room and dryly told us not to be afraid to sing or even scream since we were all relegated to seats. Someone screamed, as she opened with “Avant Gardner.” A master of reducing life’s ironies into snippets, her music is the universal, running tape machine in our heads. There are some shows when everyone is intrinsically on the same page and you can feel that connective energy in the room. This was one of those shows.

I was surprised by the amount of 60+ year-old people who came to see the Daria of Rock, but it makes sense that the generation who values books, vinyl, and The Talking Heads would find this niche appealing. I was taken aback when a solo gentleman in his 70s seated next to me snapped a video on his phone and “checked-into the Ace” on Facebook (I couldn’t help but spy). A couple of aisles away, I wasn’t sure if the other elder gentleman recording the entire show on his phone was a retired bootlegger, but I found his commitment inspiring.

The majority of the songs Barnett played were off her latest release Things Take Time, Take Time, interspersed with hits from previous albums. Nothing was amiss and every song exceeded the quality of the album’s counterpart. Her guitar solos were raging and messy, as they should be. An encore seemed uncertain as we stood incessantly clapping until she took the stage once more. She invited the duo Lucius, who were sitting in the audience, to join her for the last few songs, “Before You Gotta Go,” and a cover of Gillian Welch’s masterpiece “Everything is Free.” The harmonies on the latter song brought chills, sending me into the stratosphere. I was ready to leave the planet.

Set to be released in 2022 is a documentary capturing Barnett during her last tour. As noted by its creators, Anonymous Club “paints a raw and intimate picture of enigmatic singer-songwriter, Courtney Barnett—an anti-influencer who is a powerful voice for our times, a recluse acclaimed by audiences the world over and a strong female artist in conflict with herself.”

I couldn’t have summed her up better. She is, after all, one of the most important artists of our time.


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