Monday, May 19, 2014

Courtney Barnett / Honeyblood @ The Hare and Hounds, Sunday 18th May 2014

I was pretty much sold on Courtney Barnett from the moment I discovered that one of her songs was called Avant Gardener. Clever. I do love a good pun.  Happily the track’s as impressive as the title which, despite a still relatively low profile over here in the UK (Courtney’s from Melbourne), probably explains why this gig at the Hare and Hounds sold out a while back.

First up though Glaswegian’s Honeyblood, two self proclaimed “Noisy Scottish girls”. That ain’t a bad starting point, add to this a healthy dose of indie punk, grunge and garage and you’re just about there. With opening numbers Fall Forever and Biro you can kind of see where the oft made comparisons to The Pastels and that whole C86 thing come from. Debut single Bud ramped up the jangle a little more and for the first time this evening you got to hear lead singer Stina’s true vocal ability. Impressive, there’s a touch of the Soderberg sisters (First Aid Kit) in there, albeit shot through with a little Scottish attitude. From then on the set just got better and better with Stina adding a little growl to the slacker grunge of Choker (off the band’s debut album out in July on Fat Cat Records) and her guitar doing its bit by adding some authentic crackle and distortion as a result of being dropped earlier that day. I’d keep that in if I were them. If it ain’t broke...well, you know what I mean...don’t fix it. In true save the best till last fashion though the pairing of All Dragged Up and Killer Bangs, both well stocked with instantly hummable catchy choruses without losing the band’s rawer edge, hint at great things to come.  

Speaking of great things time for Courtney Barnett who’s seemingly sprung from nowhere recently to become (whisper it...) a bit of a big deal (some enthusiastic souls have even been throwing in the odd comparison to Dylan!). Recently she did a duet with none other than Sir William (Billy to his mates) Bragg and several dates on this, her first UK tour, have sold out. Listen to tonight’s first track it’s not hard to see/hear why. David takes Bowie’s Jean Genie riff and adds a Beatles-ish chorus to Courtney’s unique worldview that she delivers in that sublimely laid back (some would say deadpan) drawl of hers. What’s not to love? Courtney and co can really rock out though with Lance Jr’s rumbling basslines and crashing drums underpinning the kind of guitar noise that wouldn’t be out of place on a My Bloody Valentine album. Two tracks in and she’s got us.

Unsurprisingly given her laidback delivery CB seems wonderfully comfortable up there, freely engaging in the kind of easy going banter that somehow defies many artists. “What you drinking up there?” enquired one member of the audience “Water” replied Courtney drily “You should try it sometime...”. Comedy genius, well it made me laugh anyway. “We bought some t-shirts and records” she announced later on “if you want to buy buy ‘em!”. If only all advertising was so direct eh?

Perhaps predictably Avant Gardener was one of the highlights. Seemingly a simple stream of consciousness it’s lyrically rich, one of those songs that reveals new gems pretty much every time you listen to it. Is it the only song ever written about someone suffering an anaphylactic attack after doing a little light gardening? Yep, I reckon it is.

Still not convinced? Cop a load of these lyrics from another bit of Barnett brilliance this evening, History Eraser:

“I found an Ezra Pound and made a bet that if I found a cigarette I’d drop it all and marry you.
Just then a song comes on: “You can’t always get what you want” – the Rolling Stones, oh woe is we, the irony!
The stones became the moss and once all inhibitions lost, the hipsters made a mission to the farm.
We drove by tractor there, the yellow straw replaced our hair, we laced the dairy river with the cream of sweet vermouth.”

Come on now, that’s clever and strangely beautiful stuff eh?

Well and truly earning her encore Courtney returned to the stage alone for a Bragg-ish solo run through Depreston, another of her seemingly mundane tales which, like some of Bragg’s best stuff, has (in my mind at least...and that’s a funny place sometimes) hidden depths and meanings. House hunting has never seemed so poignant.

After the show she hangs out on the fire escape for an hour or so (as you do), chatting with fans clutching stuff they’ve “just fucking” bought to be signed, shooting the breeze and patiently posing for photos until the venue’s closed up for the night. Who knows, perhaps even this will make it into one of her songs one day? A star is (Mel)born...

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