Gangly? Courtney Barnett is (as, say, St. Vincent is not). The way she plays guitar. The way she sings. The way she meanders, lop-sided, on stage (as in her performance at the 2018 Pitchfork Music Festival), letting feeling and expression trump technique and precision any time.
I reached unmitigated fandom after several years of hearing her work, mostly via KEXP. Pundits tend to pick up on the grunge aspects of the shows with her band, but I hear more Liz Phair and Sleater-Kinney than Nirvana. I hear some traces of Tegan and Sara too (e.g., Need a Little Time). But above all, she simply sticks with her own magic.
I got myself a Euro edition of her Tell Me How You Really Feel (released on Mt. St. Helens Day 2018) with lyrics and lots of photos (and a tote bag). How could I resist an album whose opening song is Hopefulessness? How can I resist a guitarist who plays Fenders with no picks? See Tell Me How You Really Feel Live from Piedmont Park in Atlanta for a good introduction to the album and the band or this close-in video of Everything Is Free for a peek at her guitar-playing.
Is she a little shakey? Perhaps. Something like Neil Young, who was criticized for his tentative willowy vocals way back in his career, shows up in her songs and performances with her band, who are just as solidly fluid as Crazy Horse.
She makes no effort to obscure her Australian enunciations while speaking or singing. She has no fear of the silence that goes with thinking things through. She’s a playful lyricist and an unpretentious musician, explaining away her riffs as self-taught and all sounding alike (which seems, respectively, irrelevant and untrue to me).
Her 95-minute show at the Paramount in Seattle on October 8 was a pleasure, including most of the new album, a few older songs, and two covers:
City Looks Pretty
Need a Little Time
I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch
Crippling Self-Doubt and a General Lack of Confidence
Band Introductions / Small Talk
Are You Looking After Yourself?
Houses (cover of Elyse Weinberg’s song with Waxahatchee/Katie Crutchfield joining on vocals and guitar)
Everything Is Free (solo cover of Gillian Welch’s song)
Pedestrian at Best