It’s a Melbourne rock ‘n’ roll residency as Courtney Barnett brings her local pals Big Scary with her. Kicking off the first of two nights at London’s Forum.
Definitely worth arriving early for, Big Scary are fitting opener for this sell out show. Officially they’re a duo comprised of Tom Isanek and singing-drummer Jo Symes, but their touring band also consists keyboards, bass and a saxophonist. Their sound conjures a vibe that I would best describe as a moody party. It is droney funk with infectious choruses. Recent single Organism is a blend of dirty bass and sax and smoky vocals that recalls Morphine and Jimi Tenor.
Another song sounds a bit like the Rapture, and they put one shouty audience member in their place after they inanely request ‘something happier. “What’s happier than a disco song?” quips Jo Symes in reply. What indeed, defiantly, they follow up with a moodier, piano number to end their set.
Courtney Barnett and her band emerge a short while later, playing a grungey set, largely comprised of her excellent debut album Sometimes I sit and think, and sometimes I just Sit. The band generate a glorious racket for just three people, but there are times when the distortion obscures Barnett’s vocals, which is a shame as her lyrics are razor sharp and deserve to ring out loud and clear. When they can be heard though, they resonate deeply within me, particularly on the telling Are You Looking After Yourself “Have you got some money saved up for those rainy days? / You should start some sort of trust fund, just incase you fail” she sings, wistfully.
She is a shy performer, not engaging much with the crowd, but when your songs are stories, perhaps it’s enough to let them do the talking. Barnett is a real shredder too, a passionate guitarist, tearing up the stage with riffs and solos in amped up renditions of Dead Fox, Nobody Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party, Elevator Operator, Pedestrian At Best while psyched-out animations provide a suitably trippy backdrop behind her.
There are quieter moments too, she tries to hush a boisterous shouting contingent with “I’m going to play a quiet song called Depreston”, which is a more polite shushing than they deserve. The real standout for me is Kim’s Caravan, the band are bathed in half light, perfectly framed in a David Lynch haze as the guitar drone takes hold of me and carries me away for a while.
Playing larger venues is clearly something that she is taking time in getting used to, and she may have to navigate some even bigger stages yet. But, I’m glad I’m watching her at this stage, on the rise but not yet fully swallowed whole by mainstream rock.
The encore is buoyant cover of Know Your Product by The Saints, joined by Big Scary and she ends on the song that got me into her, the pun-loving Avant Gardener. And with that, she waves and wanders off, in the same unassuming manner in which she arrived.by