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REVIEW: Courtney Barnett at the Sheffield Leadmill

You could forgive Courtney Barnett if you found her taking sanctuary in her dressing room as the clock ticked down to show-time. A lot has been written about this beguiling 25 year-old since the release of her two debut EPs, paired together in ‘The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas’. Last week her debut album ‘Sometimes I Sit And Think And Sometimes I Just Sit’ piqued interest and gained rave reviews, no pressure then.

Yet instead of cowering under the weight of new-found expectancy she could be found just two deep from the front excitedly snapping away at opening support act and fellow endearing Aussie, Fraser A Gorman. This being Sheffield she was left unattended, probably best for someone who will later breezily describe how an afternoon’s gardening led to a panic attack.

The Leadmill was close to sold out, barely a surprise when you consider how much Sheffield has sound-tracked the banality of life with dry, witty, quick-fire lyrics. Consider Jarvis and Turner then you can easily slot in Barnett for deadpan delivery complete with her ever-so-cool-but-don’t-call-it-cool Melbournian drawl.

The current face and sound of slackerdom opened her set with ‘Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party’. An unassuming, millennial anthem of meh which centres around the line ‘I wanna go out but I wanna stay home’. Thankfully, most in the room were glad they ventured out despite weather that daylight savings won’t fix.

Courtney Barnett (Photo courtesy of the ever helpful Jon Downing)

Courtney Barnett (Photo courtesy of the ever helpful Jon Downing)

There is an endearing charm to Courtney Barnett that is hard to pin down. Her patterned t-shirt, exuberant guitar licks and the way she gently disarms any loose heckling. Maybe it is the fact she quietly started her own record label, Milk Records, to take care of her and her musical chums. Maybe it is the playful sketches and homemade aesthetic that adorn her album artwork and merchandise. Maybe it is just her carefully selected points of view. Like many Australians I have met she shares her suburban status with a more far-reaching outlook. From my time in Melbourne I could picture the Swanston Street commuter captured so eloquently in ‘Elevator Operator’ catching the 96 tram. Mainly as this was my favourite route, taking in hipster Brunswick and ending at St Kilda Beach. I knew the troubles of house hunting away from all the coffee shops, even if I failed to venture as far as deceased estates in (De)Preston.

That she could then solemnly expand on the perils of big business, complete with knackered truckers and ‘taxidermied kangeroos’ on the Hume Highway was impressive enough during ‘Dead Fox’. However, in an age of distraction it was ‘Kim’s Caravan’ that showed Barnett’s real precocity and left the room floored. A tale of a dying seal and the Great Barrier Reef being dredged beyond belief set to an agonisingly heart-breaking delivery and a resounding finale. Not many slackers can show so much soul-baring concern for the environment.

That’s not to say she does not know how to have fun. While her debut album showcases a labour of love, song craftsmanship and anxiety, tonight she looked to let loose. You sense that the spotlight still offers a glimpse into her inner awkward and being Australian means she can brazenly dismiss it, jokingly renaming ‘Debbie Downer’ to ‘Debbie’s Fucking AWESOME’. At other times she seemed far more comfortable tapping a guitar pedal, turning her six-string into a weapon of mass distortion and shaking her mass of thick, brown hair, as during ‘History Eraser’. Close your eyes during ‘Pedestrian At Best’ and you could imagine the screeching guitar and snarling delivery as a female fronted Nirvana circa In Utero.

For the encore she delved into the silly love song set in a swimming pool that is ‘Aqua Profunda!’ and a whimsical cover of The Easybeats’ ‘I’ll Make You Happy’. For someone who can belt out the line, ‘put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you’, she may have found an audience happy to disagree.

As this blog post is all about my opinion, and partly about my time in Australia, I am submitting it in the All About You Party. Get involved!

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