Courtney Barnett live from the Royal Exhibition Building Melbourne
“It will just be nice to make music with my friends again”, mused Courtney Barnett in a candid interview before the live performance. Wide, sweeping shots of the Royal Exhibition Building in Melbourne, empty except for Barnett and her ensemble, created a sense of ceremony and heightened the occasion. The World Heritage-listed edifice was designed by David Mitchell, the father of soprano Dame Nellie Melba. For Barnett the location had a personal link having been nicknamed “Melba” as a child because of her love of singing. Within this abandoned and pristine space, the singer-songwriter and her group gave an intimate performance more akin to a band jam session than a broadcasted gig.
The act began with City Looks Pretty; its opening lyric – “The city looks pretty when you been indoors” – resonates with the current situation. It took a few songs for the band to readjust to each other’s presence, but there was something engaging about hearing the tracks slowly become smoother and the ensemble members fall into sync with one another after such a long time apart. “I don’t think like I’m an incredibly natural performer”, admitted Barnett earlier in the evening, but a lavish show is not what fans expect, or even want, to see. The pared-down nature of this gig created the sense that each tune was being played for the first time. There were mistakes and off-notes, but they added to the creative authenticity of the night. Their cover of We Could Be Looking For the Same Thing by Silver Jews felt all the more spontaneous because the frontwoman had to start the piece again.
The concert featured a selection of new songs, including Write a List of Things to Look Forward To, which resonated with its lyrics: “Nobody knows why we keep trying”. As the final chords of another new melody, Here’s the Thing, faded, the sun set outside. The grandeur and scale of the building slowly darkened as the stage lights surrounding the band were turned on, encompassing them in a warm glow. The remaining numbers seemed illuminated by this enhanced intimacy. If I Don’t Hear From You Tonight was another excellent debut. While the final track, Sunday Roast, with its lyrics, “I know you’re doing your best, I think you’re doing just fine”, seemed to be a direct address to the audience in these troubling times.
Overall, it was a refreshing show from Barnett which did not try to compete with the more elaborate live performances of other bands. The Sydney-born artist brought authenticity and a sense of experimentation to the gig; a perfectly imperfect concert from a voice of her genre and generation.
For further information and future events visit Courtney Barnett live from the Royal Exhibition Building Melbourne’s website here.
Watch the video for From Where I’m Standing here: