This year Courtney Barnett conquered the music scene. She and her band of three played The Pyramid Stage at Glastonbury, featured on The Late Show and released an album ‘Sometimes i sit and think, sometimes i just sit’ which topped not just one, but four Billboard charts. I was pretty pissed off to have missed her set at Glastonbury when I heard her for the first time in a Rough Trade store a month later.
But after seeing her in Munich last night, I take it all back. Seeing her at a 300 capacity venue was, in my eyes, incomparable to The Pyramid Stage.
One thing you ought to know about Barnett is that her songs each tell a story, every one embellished with a mix of concern, truth and wit. I’ve never heard a more intriguing song starter than ‘I masturbated to the songs you wrote’ (Lance Jr.) By the end of the song you actually realise it’s actually a sarcastic dig at what seems to be a previous partners’ musical endeavours.
Barnett and her band didn’t bother with the generic set list structure (start with a fairly popular song to drag people in, fill next 20 minutes with new stuff, recite the crowd pleasing classics in the last five minutes, inevitable acoustic encore, end with most popular hit so that people aren’t tempted to leave early). As ever, they went for a different approach, which in retrospect I can unapologetically say it seems like the songs were decided on 5 minutes before curtain call. But because each song switched seamlessly from angsty to paranoid, pissed off to infatuated, contemplative to ignorant, it worked. Barnett’s crafted monologue against the backdrop of electric guitar and drums had you completely drawn in and fixated. For an hour and a half the audience stepped out of their own confused minds, and boarded Barnett’s (somewhat unhinged) train of thought.
During ‘Small Poppies’ her words resonate with an unsettling truth, probing modern societies unspoken demons – the struggle for individualism in a time where everyone looks different somehow similar, narcissism in the time of the selfie-stick, insanity and inevitably depression… The song ends ‘an eye for an eye for an eye for an eye, I used to hate myself but now I think I’m alright’.
The contrast is found in songs like ‘an illustration of loneliness (sleepless in New York)’ where she lusts over an anonymous person in her absence, ‘wondering what you’re doing, what you’re listening to, which quarter of the moon you’re viewing from your bedroom’. Because sometimes you have to fall in love and ignore the shit state of affairs that we’re currently faced with.
To me, it’s sort of ironic that interviews with Barnett have her labelled as ‘the voice of the millennial generation’, – she’s not one voice above the rest, she’s just as confused and pissed off as the rest of us. ‘Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you’ surely proves she’s no closer to finding a solution than the rest of us. In the mean time, listening to her music is the only way to guilt-free procrastination.