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!

Mama and More


The Grass Really Can Be Greener On The Other Side Of The World

Well, this was always going to happen, all it needed was a few inches of snow to make me realise. I really miss Australia.

Just over a year ago I landed at Birmingham Airport, hardly the most glamorous of venues to make my return to Blighty. As I walked into the chill of a British winter I thought I was ready to return home, clearly I was not.

January was always going to be a tough month. Seasonal Affective Disorder can be at its most disruptive, no matter how much light therapy you undertake or vitamin D tablets you gulp down. To top it off there is the hideous return to work in the new year and I find myself enduring the month. This isn’t just the winter blues, this is the sting of the travel bug.

Times like these I really wish I had not made as many friends who still remain down under. Just one quick scan on Facebook informs me that a few of them are attending the Australian Open in Melbourne. There are the inevitable beach selfies and Foursquare check-ins at a rooftop cinema. Seemingly every meal is served from a barbecue yet grilled meat not only entices people outside but rewards them in voting booths. We offer biscuits, over there they get a sausage in bread.

Thanks to social media it is almost impossible to miss what is going on in Australia, like continually seeing the best ex-girlfriend you ever let go.

Australians simply do certain things better. Take adverse weather conditions for instance. For a bushfire they pull together, neighbours are checked even if it takes half an hour to reach them and citizens genuinely heed good advice. Here it takes a few inches of snow to cause havoc. Motorists decide that their journey REALLY IS THAT IMPORTANT and they justify that ludicrous drive up the hill despite the ice. Over the past two days the footpath to my house has been an icy deathtrap, forcing me to walk up the road and judging by the steely glares of passing drivers the road is for their Land Rover, not a mere pedestrian. Just take a glance out of your window and have some consideration.

Australians like to let you know what they are thinking. It sounds simple enough but it makes a big difference. If they disagree with something sooner rather than later you will be told. For the record, I have just been called a ‘camel jockey’ by an Australian on Twitter for disagreeing on a geographical point (Australia does lie in Oceania, not Asia which can be confirmed by Wikipedia). At least he told me his view.

Back in Blighty it does not take long for me to realise that us Poms really do simmering disdain remarkably well. You would have thought that January was never-ending judging by the looks of resentment on the streets. It is the little things I notice, the smug grin on a man who just beats me to the supermarket check-out. The foolhardiness of the runner who simply will not allow patches of ice to disrupt his Saturday morning routine. The arrogance of a reveller on Saturday night who decides that the only way he is going to get served is to wave a £10 note at a barman. The simple act of saying please and thank-you going forgotten.

I miss being in a country with no discernible class system in effect, where a blue collar worker can be king. Where wages leave you wanting to stay behind and you can actually enjoy your time in an office without feeling the pressure of job cuts and an economy still in recovery. Life just seemed far more affordable over there. Sure, an $8 pint was ridiculous yet there was the impression that companies were happy to give a little back. Like, getting off your final stop using your myki card (the Melbourne equivalent of an Oyster card) before 7am being free, yes, free. Can you even imagine that in London? The extra public transport put on for sports events, while anyone wanting to attend a match at Wembley better check they can still catch the last train home.

This morning I watched the final of the Australian Open. Pretty much every time the camera panned over the Rod Laver Arena my heart ached due to remembering my time in Melbourne and Australia in general. Put simply, the grass really can be greener on the other side of the world.