October 21, 2018 at House of Blues
Barnett’s ability to capture an audience and remind them of their own humanity is unparalleled.
Many concerts seem to have uniform crowds. A group of dedicated fans with common interests tends to dress in a similar style and be from a similar demographic. A prime example of this is AM-era Arctic Monkeys concerts, where everyone wore leather, ripped denim, chokers and whatever else was on Tumblr at the time. But Courtney Barnett’s fan base transcended stereotypes. The House of Blues was filled with a diverse crowd of all ages, proving how universally likable Barnett’s music is.
Barnett opened with ‘Hopefulessness’ while doused in red light. The song began softly and transformed into a loud, feedback-heavy explosion by the end. Its slow build was the perfect way to start the show. Barnett was surrounded by her band members and a long string of Christmas lights. The low-effort yet homey vibe of the stage fit her effortless style perfectly. Besides some great guitar solos, Barnett’s music is quite simple, but it isn’t boring at all. The simplicity allows her strong personality to shine through and her excitement on stage, made clear by her headbanging, exemplified it perfectly. The red lights flashed back on stage for ‘I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch,’ reflecting her rage towards those who get a kick out of putting others down. Her building yell of “I try my best to be patient, but I can only put up with so much shit,” felt therapeutic to yell along with for anyone who’s ever desperately wanted to tell someone off, which is just about everyone.
As Barnett’s performance continued, fans cheered especially loud for hits ‘Elevator Operator,’ ‘Depreston’ and ‘Avant Gardener,’ as her words were matched with a crowd eager to sing every lyric back to her. ‘Nameless, Faceless’ was met with a similar reaction, but was especially poignant. The song attacks violent masculinity and misogyny, addressing the fear every woman is met with when walking alone in the dark.
Seeing older men sing along passionately was special, serving as a reminder that not everyone is awful, and that these toxic behaviors can change if we talk about them enough. The show hit a lull of energy when she brought opener Waxahatchee back on to perform a cover of ‘Houses’ by Elyse Weinberg. The slower song let the two singers showcase their vocal talent and versatility in a sentimental moment.
I think what attracts so many people to Barnett’s music is her slice-of-life lyrical style. Her songs tell stories about loneliness, love, depression, and the weirdness of life through the lens of her own experiences. They’re feelings that everyone can relate to, told through anecdotes about house shopping, parties and everything in between. Hearing hundreds of people singing along with Barnett as she sings the story of how she tried to go outside to make herself happier but ended up in the hospital with an allergic reaction on ‘Avant Gardener’ is a bit strange, since it’s unlikely they had the same thing happen. What they’re really singing about, though, is the hopelessness of trying to do better for yourself and ending up in a rut again. It’s a comedic story of resilience, and that’s what her music conveys.
Barnett’s ability to capture an audience and remind them of their own humanity is unparalleled. Her strong personality needs no gimmicks, and the attentive, diverse crowd at the House of Blues proved just how charismatic she is.
Photos by Ingrid Angulo