- by Tim Sentz Rating: Release Date: Label:
Sometime in the last five years, Melbourne’s Courtney Barnett became a certified rock star. Touring behind her sophomore album Tell Me How You Really Feel, Barnett and her band swung by Kansas City’s The Truman, on their way to the Pitchfork Music Festival this weekend in Chicago. The last time Barnett visited the area was in 2015, supporting her debut album Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, and opening for Belle & Sebastian at the Uptown Theater. Despite that brief set, Kansas City has embraced Barnett’s punk-meets-alt rock style.
Hailing originally from Cameroon, Laetitia Tamko’s Vagabon opened the evening with highlights from her 2017 debut album Infinite Worlds. Unfortunately, a few songs into the set some technical issues stalled the band, giving the audience time to linger to the bar and smoking areas. Once back up, Tamko thanked us, then launched into a string of strong cuts from her critically acclaimed album. Vagabon’s strengths come from the juxtaposition of Tamko’s vocals with familiar indie rock. It was a lovely way to start the evening, and the choice to have them open for Barnett was smart – the double bill was worth more than the price of admission.
Twenty minutes after Vagabon wrapped things up, Courtney and her band greeted the nearly sold out crowd. The Truman’s still in its first year, having opened last September. Since their inception they’ve housed a variety of acts from Tyler, The Creator and Tech N9ne, to They Might Be Giants and The Breeders. In the past, sound issues have popped up here and there, but as time progresses the venue’s managed to smooth things out considerably – so by the time Barnett addressed the crowd and launched into the opening track of her new album “Hopelessness” the crowd was lit. Crystal-clear vocals, clean guitar licks – it was like listening to the album.
Barnett turned up the heat with more new material – “City Looks Pretty,” “Charity,” and “Need a Little Time” – all to the joy of the crowd. The album’s only 2 months old, but the KC crowd seemed very much familiar with it already, singing along with lead single “Need a Little Time.” Barnett’s stage presence this early in the show was rhythmic, fully in tune with the grooves she was laying down, and moving slightly this way and that way. They kept this rhythm as they rolled out older cuts like “An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless In New York)” and “Avant Gardner” – the latter of which comes from her breakout double EP release from 2013. Basically, this was your typical, run-of-the-mill, straight forward rock show.
And then things drastically changed. The glitter backdrop still sparkled, but strobe lights came on as the band ripped through “Nameless, Faceless” a highlight from the new album. Somewhere along the line, Barnett went from being a modest indie rock darling, to becoming a rock goddess. She tore through the next songs like she’d been touring for 40 years behind this material and still loved every chord. Without a stumble, or a hiccup, Barnett thrilled the crowd with “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch” – a two-minute rager that put everyone on the edge of their toes as she evoked 90s grunge and punk into howling perfection.
Drawing it back to her own classics with “Elevator Operator” and “Depreston,” two songs the crowd knew by heart and sang along with every word, the evening hit a bit of a plateau with an emphasis on the later cuts from her new album. The album’s received a bit of a lukewarm reception, nowhere near as gushing as her debut or the double EPs, but still modest. Having another ripper to finish off the main set would have improved matters – not that it was a problem for the crowd as she wrapped up “History Eraser,” they all ate it up.
The encore was predictable, but fan servicing. The song that put her on the map finished off the night – “Pedestrian at Best” was the moment everyone was waiting for and it came off as grand as one would expect. And as Barnett waved good night to the folks at the Truman, not a single person was disappointed with their evening. I’m not even a huge fan of her work, but as a live presence Barnett is masterful – she was born to be on this stage, and has created a sound that resonates with millennials and Gen-Xers alike. One of the things that has made her so popular (and there are many) is that her conversational approach to lyrics seems more direct and personable than others – 21st century Cake, giving topical analogies and relating her life stories to those in the crowd. She’s a rock superstar, and this tour is proof that she has the skill and stage presence to be around for a long time.