Courtney Barnett at the Rickshaw Stop Monday night.
By Sloane Martin
Standing outside the Rickshaw Stop before Courtney Barnett's set, I'm watching her chat with her bandmates when one of the girls working merch pops out to let Barnett know that they've run out of everything — shirts, albums, posters. "Oh, hang on," Barnett cries. "I think we have a couple more t-shirts in the car!" And she's off, grabbing the minivan keys from her drummer so she can dig out something to sell to San Francisco. Despite the shaggy hair and the tomboy-cool outfit of striped t-shirt, jeans, and Chelsea boots, she genuinely has appreciation for the fans who have come out.
That moment set the right tone for a goofy, humble, and electrically entertaining set on Monday night, one of several sold-out shows kicking off Noisepop 2014. Courtney Barnett (and the Courtney Barnetts, a rhythm section comprised of drummer Dave Mundy and bassist Andrew Loane) is a former bartender from Melbourne, Australia. Her debut album The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas has gained considerable popularity over the past several months, fueled by a lauded performance at CMJ in October 2013. If you weren't one of the fans lucky enough to grab a copy of the record before it sold out, you'll have to order one from Barnett herself. The performer started her label, Milk! Records, which she described onstage as "me packing up CDs in my bedroom," to release her own music as well as that of friends like Jen Cloher and Fraser A. Gorman. New York independent label Mom + Pop Music will release A Sea of Split Peas on CD and vinyl in the US later this year.
Wandering onstage and looking a bit bemused by the crowd's excitement, Barnett launched into 40 minutes of tight, shredding guitar riffs and droll lyrics. Her eager, energetic drummer and bassist provided a heavy low-end that nearly drowned out some of her funnier moments. Her signature impassive delivery of the drawling line, "Just because you're older than me / doesn't mean you have to be so condescending," on "Out of the Woodwork," and the opening of "Lance Jr.," "I masturbated to the songs you wrote / resuscitated all my hopes," was too enjoyable to be missed. After a slow start, Barnett and her bandmates seemed to loosen up, or maybe wake up, as they'll finally be headed back to Australia for a much deserved rest after this final US show. All that time on the road made for a tightly rehearsed show, however, as at one point even the headbanging of each band member was perfectly in sync. Once the onstage banter started, it became clear that Barnett comes by her lyrical humor quite naturally, as she assured us that if we missed the chance to buy a t-shirt or a CD, "I'll hug each and every one of you, and Andy will kiss you, and Dave will sign your chest."
The crowd of hesitantly spastic dancers seemed not to know quite what to do with the deadpan vocals set against an enthusiastically kinetic rhythm section. Word to the wise: Either bob your head or bounce up and down or choose noodle arms, lest you lose your expensive beer to the floor, as the gentleman next to me did. Hopefully these fans figure out their dance strategies by the time the next record comes out, as the new song Barnett played us midway through her set was a promising sign of consistently fantastic work ahead. As the crowd sang along to "Avant Gardener," Barnett's sprawling narrative of an asthma attack suffered in her front garden, it was easy to sympathize with lines like, "Should have stayed in bed today / I much prefer the mundane," but I, at least, was glad to have gotten out of bed to see her.