If you listen to alternative rock on satellite radio, you’ve heard Courtney Barnett sing about having trouble breathing in. That single, “Avant Gardener,” from the 2014 LP release “The Double Ep: A Sea of Split Peas,” introduced the Australian garage songwriter to American audiences with equal parts dry charm and a ridiculously memorable hook.
Barnett is spending her summer playing some pretty big shows, including spots at Glastonbury, Lollapalooza and Outside Lands. Tuesday night she played a small one, the sold-out Larimer Lounge, but the packed, tiny club was a perfect setting for Barnett’s wry, confessional songs.
Barnett opened the show with “Lance Jr.,” singing, “I masturbated to the songs you wrote/ Resuscitated all of my hopes/ It felt wrong but it didn’t take too long / Much appreciated are your songs.” Her bawdy but droll honesty set to sparsely orchestrated jangle is reminiscent of Liz Phair’s seminal “Exile in Guyville.”
Onstage at the Larimer, Barnett was refreshing, engaging and unassuming with her bangs, skinny jeans and white t-shirt. She was both awkward and eager as she paused mid-set to ask the audience if they had “any questions?” Her willingness to engage with the crowd lent a sense of sincerity to her personal, emotionally revealing lyrics. She’s also an impressive guitarist — moving between psych-pop jangle to rocking solo shredding, Barnett’s guitar skills shone live.
Barnett’s playful demeanor connected on songs like “David,” a rock stomp reminiscent of Nancy Sinatra’s “Boots are Made for Walkin’.” This was one of the several songs from the night that rocked considerably harder live than its recorded counterpart. Her work was buoyed by the surprisingly funky bass playing and spot-on back-up vocals of Bones Sloan, and the clean, restrained drumming of Dave Mudie.
Barnett finished the evening with a solo encore, sharing thoughtful new work (about how depressing it is shopping for affordable real estate in L.A.) from a promised upcoming recording that further showcased her quirky, deadpan sensibility.
Amy McGrath is a Denver-based writer and regular contributor to Reverb.