Courtney Barnett has seen a meteoric rise in popularity this year, and in Manchester alone she’s been promoted from a small and intimate performance at Gorilla to a sold out show at the Ritz in less than a year. Her ability to pair catchy instrumentals with lyrics that add zest to the mundanity of everyday life has attracted swarms of admirers worldwide. I missed her at The Leadmill in Sheffield earlier this year before the release of her new album, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, so I was excited to finally see and listen to my indie heroine in real life.
Courtney and her backing band came out; she in her signature t-shirt, black jeans and Chelsea boots combo, hair all choppy and dishevelled. I was stood close to the front, so my view was momentarily blocked by the heads of photographers congregating beneath her. She forgot the lyrics to first song Avant Gardener but smiled her way through the lalala’s and dududu’s. She’s a passionate performer despite her obvious awkwardness, and gyrated so much I thought she was going to trip over herself and break an ankle, but she seemed to know what she was doing because she steadied herself by dropping to the floor every so often. For such an articulate lyricist, she struggled to stimulate the crowd during breaks between songs and only occasionally blurted out an “alright cool”, the most we got for some time was “anymore requests?” when someone shouted some incoherent nonsense at her.
It was easy to spot the long-term fans from the new recruits by looking around at who was singing along to the pre-Sometimes I Sit and Think material and who was stood furrowing their brows in confusion. The nicest moment came during Depreston, which was the first song the audience sang along to in unison. Everyone seems in good spirits. Apart from Courtney, who dropped the bombshell that she was “having a really bad time” because it was such a difficult crowd to read. No one knew whether to boo this admission, pass it off as sarcasm or cheer in merriment to prove ourselves as a worthy audience. She moved on to Nobody Really Cares if You Don’t Go to the Party and Pedestrian at Best, both head bangers, and which amassed a small mosh pit – but the timing of this felt like an exaggerated response just to cheer her up after she’d “been honest” with us. Regardless, the band nailed it.
The bassist, Bones, was cloaked by a mass of hair for the entirety of the gig so I have no idea what he looks like from the neck up. Even when they came back out for an encore with fellow native support band, Big Scary, and performed a cover of The Saints’ Know Your Product, he was a faceless hairball.
There is no denying that Courtney Barnett is an incredibly talented musician and storyteller, but post-gig I feel she and her band are more suited to smaller venues packed out with fully-appreciative crowds of hardcore fans. I’m hesitant to say she’s needy, but her reaction to the Manchester Ritz crowd hasn’t exactly proven her to be a confident performer, and the abundance of floor-staring suggests she’s not quite ready for the big crowds yet.