Courtney Barnett at Whelan’s, Dublin, on April 4th 2015
It’s nice to see spoofers called out every once in a while. “That was a trick question, we’ve never played here before!” laughs Courtney Barnett, as a response in the affirmative goes up to the question of who saw her here before. Given her trajectory since 2013’s ‘The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas’, and her breakthrough song Avant Gardener in particular, it’s surprising that this is her first Dublin visit. The hype was suitably bubbling in advance, with people only realising too late that they should have snapped up those €10 tickets when they were announced instead of waiting for the last minute online pleas.
It’s a full house, and the stage is enclosed in white material that forms a half-dome around what is essentially a power trio in the grungiest sense; forget about the laid-back indie meanderings of those first EP’s. Barnett released her debut album ‘Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit’ in March of this year, an altogether more beefed up collection than her previous works and a record that saw her settle into more of a band dynamic than before.
CB3 is emblazoned on the bass drum of Dave Mudie, with Barnett and bassist Bones Sloane flanking either side, one more indication that this show isn’t just Barnett but a sum of its parts. While her wry lyrical vignettes are the focal point of the records, the live experience is a grungier, garage rock affair. Lance Jr segues noisily into Canned Tomataoes (Whole) with Barnett rounding out the latter in thrash rock style, dropping to her knees on the stage floor, head angled at guitar neck.
At times the trio seem to play around with the endings, elongating and improvising with some feedback squalls and drum rolls. Mudie channels Keith Moon in his opening salvo to Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go to the Party, and all heads onstage are loving it, taking up his charge – it frequently looks like Barnett is about to pitch into the drumkit in the throes of a guitar solo, but pulls back from the point of no return at the last minute.
Debbie Downer certainly benefits from the live set-up, its slight psychedelic inflections now more full-bodied as coloured projections coat the band and strobes pop off obliquely behind the draped material. A discordant intro renders Pedestrian At Best almost unrecognisable, all rumbling drums and scoured frets until it breaks in, while Depreston reins things in a bit. “It’s only got two chords in it which is pretty…average” Barnett tells us, then seeming happily humbled as the crowd join with the choruses.
A well-worn cover of I’ll Make You Happy – The Easybeats via Divinyls – proves an apt pairing with the new wave glam of Aqua Profundo!, rounding out the two-song encore with a final moment of hair flailing from Barnett and Sloane. Barnett’s new album cranks the guitars up from those on the EP’s, a welcome introduction of noise and distortion to the party; CB3 live add even more power and volume to Barnett’s songs. This was one sweaty gig, and these three are a bunch of rockers, but Barnett may well be the only one we’re ever likely to see in a Torvill and Dean t-shirt.