It is safe to say that the secret is out about Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett. Last year she released what would become one of the best albums of the year, “Sometimes I Sit and Think and Sometimes I Just Sit,” with relatively little fanfare. Over time buzz surrounding her grew as sites like Grantland and Pitchfork brought Barnett into the music spotlight. Now Barnett and her two bandmates are among the hottest commodities on the scene. As a part of her latest North American tour, Barnett played a great show to a jam-packed Electric Factory May 26.
Standing amidst the throng of fans on the Electric Factory floor, it was hard to imagine that Barnett played the much smaller Union Transfer around this time last year. At the time, Barnett had looked at the crowd amazed saying, “This is the largest crowd we’ve ever played to.” Little did we know that in less than a year’s time she’d be selling out venues three times that size!
There was a roar of applause as Barnett, bassist Bones Sloane and drummer Dave Mudie took the stage and launched right into “Dead Fox,” a catchy track from her breakthrough album. Barnett had a sweet audiovisual and light setup with a massive projection screen behind the stage displaying all sorts of neat animated videos. The projector would douse Barnett and company in all sorts of cool colors in addition to the swirling house lights. I wish more bands would put more effort into their lighting. It can add so much to the performance. On the epic “Kim’s Caravan,” right as Barnett began her big guitar solo strobe lights started going off like crazy making everyone on stage look like they were moving in slow motion. It was so cool.
It was great to see a number of Barnett’s older songs make an appearance. The old staple “History Eraser” has been replaced by tracks like “Out of the Woodwork” and “Are You Looking After Yourself?” A lot of fans might only be familiar with Barnett’s last album but her early stuff is just as strong. “Avant Gardener” the song that put Barnett on the map and it not disappoint as closer to Barnett’s set. There were also some new tracks that Barnett has released including “Three Packs a Day” and “Pickles From the Jar.”
While it was great to see older tracks, the setlist construction was weird to me. “Pedestrian at Best” has been a bit overplayed since Barnett made it big but it still kicks enough ass live that it deserves better than being buried in the middle of the set. And now “Nobody Really Cares if You Don’t Go to the Party” has been promoted to the encore closing song. You know – the Big Closer. It felt weird in that spot. It’s a great track in its own right but I don’t know if it has the muscle to properly end a show. I know that I am nitpicking but the concert lacked momentum, the ebbs clearly outnumbering the flows.
When I saw her at Union Transfer, Barnett was jamming across the stage and getting down on her knees to get as much feedback as she could from her amps. During the show May 26 moments like those were few and far between. While she has plenty of great slower songs with the verbose and clever lyrics, I wanted to see Barnett the rock n’ roller and it just seemed like she was having a hard time getting to that place in front of the docile Electric Factory crowd.
While Barnett put on a show whose quality surpasses most acts that come through Philly, I kept waiting for that transcendent moment where you can’t quite comprehend what you are seeing and your mind gets blown all over the wall. Unfortunately that moment never came for me and I was left wanting a little more.