The rise of Courtney Barnett was certainly unexpected. Her lyrically dense, country tinged song “Avant Gardener” and it’s accompanying video became a viral video sensation in the last few months of 2013. With the strength of this song, she managed to sell out every show on her visit to North America. All without a distribution deal in the United States. She closed out her tour by opening up Noise Pop 2014 in a most triumphant manner.
I guess that was a spoiler. Before I move on, there were openers. And, since this is Noise Pop, they were all very eclectic and mighty impressive.
Rich Girls played an all too brief set to open the festivities. This band played a set of Jesus & Mary Chain inspired rock that filled the room with an epic amount of feedback and distortion, only to be grounded by the stunning vocals of Luisa Black. She has the soulful twang of Neko Case, and her voice was treated with the perfect amount of reverb- just enough that parts of her voice blended in with the thunder that was backing her, while still staying present in the foreground. This, of course, being my prime complaint about shoegaze bands is that the vocals are always mixed in the back. Rich Girls found the happy place where the singer is both drowning in and dominating over the distortion.
Where Rich Girls were a full fledged assault of fuzz, KINS managed to overwhelm the senses by doing the exact opposite. They played a set of music that was so fragile it was almost uncomfortable, but in the best way. Lead vocalist Thomas Savage managed to sound like the perfect balance of Thom Yorke and Feist, which only helped encourage the beautiful sound being made in front of us. As the set progressed, they managed to take us on a sonic journey that only got heavier and darker as it went on, locking into a groove that bordered on metal, while keeping the sense of fragility that seemed to be the hallmark of this band’s sound.
Fever The Ghost
Fever The Ghost remind me of something that I worked out several years ago: what’s the difference between a noise band, a jam band, a prog band, and a psych band? With a noise band, neither the band nor the audience or on drugs. With a jam band, both the band and the audience are on drugs. With a prog band, the band is on drugs and the audience isn’t. With a psych band, the audience is on drugs and the band isn’t. I couldn’t quite place which category to place these group. They had an astronaut on keys and turntables, doing some Yes inspired prog melodies, while the rest of the band was alternating between vintage Flaming Lips, Piper At The Gates Of Dawn-era Pink Floyd, and the psych freakouts of The Mars Volta. The lights were as insane as the music, and the crowd was going nuts. Very few bands can pull off this level of geekery, but Fever The Ghost did it well. I generally dislike anything the comes out of the genre known as progressive rock, but if more bands of this genre would allow space for chaos, I think I would be more patient when bands play 35 minute songs.
The crowd adored Fever The Ghost. So much so, that I actually expected a huge chunk of people to leave, as I had a hard time determining whether or not there was any type of fan crossover here. Barnett is good, but her record The Double EP: A Sea Of Split Peas is largely a singer/songwriter affair, with the focus on lyrics and instrumentation that’s largely folk oriented. I was a little worried about how well her sound was going to stack up against the wall of noise that we were treated to initially. From the moment she took the stage, backed by simply a bassist and a drummer, Barnett was able to produce her own thunderous noise in order to prove why she was selling out 500 person clubs around the country when nobody knew who she was six months prior.
She opened the show with an impressive and blistering version of “David,” off her aforementioned debut record. Her band was a rock solid rhythm machine, and Barnett opted to turn up the overdrive on her guitar and also opted to leave the guitar picks at home. Throughout the whole set, she proved herself to be a guitar hero as well as one of the best lyricists out there. She reminded me of a cross between Lindsey Buckingham and Ron Asheton with the way she played her guitar.
She covered most of her debut record during the set, placing “Avant Gardener” right in the middle of the set, showcasing the fact that she is more than just a one hit wonder. (However it is quite gratifying to see an audience sing along to a song with so many lyrics) There were a smattering of new songs throughout the set, leading me to believe that album #2 will be much heavier that the first record. She encored with a solo rendition of The Lemonheads’ “Being Around,” marking the only time in the set where Barnett actually slowed down, showcasing her stunning deadpan voice in a way that would make Evan Dando very proud. This was one of those amazing shows where everyone in the audience will be telling their kids and grandkids about the time they saw Courtney Barnett melt their faces off in a 400 cap room on a Monday Night.