Courtney Barnett’s Oct. 21 show at Boston’s House of Blues was nothing short of an unceremonious exposition of pure art. Barnett embarked on a captivating course with a choice selection of her most brilliant work. It was evident in her performance that there is a sense of duality to Barnett. One is the Barnett who writes songs, pens chords, and intermittently small talks with her concert-goers. The other is the entity Barnett becomes when she opens her lips and spins sound into song, dwarfing not only herself and the band, but the entire audience as well.
Bathed in velvet hues of red and blue, Barnett showcased her repertoire through songs thoughtfully plucked from her two studio albums and released singles, peppered with the occasional cover. Barnett’s most recent release, Tell Me How You Really Feel, dominated the night. Album highlights included “Need a Little Time,” “Nameless, Faceless,” and “Crippling Self Doubt and a General Lack of Self Confidence.”
Fans cowered as Barnett crooned witty lines such as “Shave your head to see how it feels / Emotionally it’s not that different” and “I wanna walk through the park in the dark / Men are scared that women will laugh at them,” switching the second line for “Women are scared that men will kill them” to create an insightful juxtaposition in the following lines. A departure from her earlier work, Tell Me How You Really Feel is Barnett’s arduous attempt at imparting a completely personal introspection, striving to hurdle the daunting, uncomfortable task at hand.
Songs from Barnett’s previous studio release, Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit, bolstered the Sunday night performance. “Elevator Operator,” “History Eraser,” and “Pedestrian at Best” provided the revelation of just how multi-dimensional of a performer Barnett really is. These pieces showcase the extreme skill with which Barnett is capable of transforming seemingly innocent lyrics into high-energy rock.
Bottling everyday experiences and electrifying them with an unexpected energy, Barnett powered through lines like “I think you’re projecting the way that you’re feeling / I’m not suicidal, just idling insignificantly” and “Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you / Tell me I’m exceptional, I promise to exploit you.” Barnett possesses an uncanny ability to capture the peculiar everydayness of a life too often overlooked.
The encore began with Barnett alone on a stage illuminated by a lone spotlight, the setting for her acoustic cover of Gillian Welch’s “Everything Is Free.” The audience soon faded into what felt like a memory of a memory as Barnett sensitively strummed chord after chord. With every melancholic melody, the song offered a glimpse into an artist who emanated the energy of a freshly raw wound.
Barnett is a rare breed. Observing her on stage is like looking through a peephole into another world: Barnett lives in it, but we are only privy to the shadows it casts. As she pulls us into her inescapable orbit, we risk not tugging on a single delicate string for fear of unraveling it all. What Barnett does happens right there, right then. Not a single pensive word manages to leave her without imparting a piece of her soul upon its wings. Some artists channel, Barnett creates.
Featured Image by Mom + Pop Music