To say that Courtney Barnett’s star is rising might be an understatement. Only a year ago, the now 26-year old singer and guitarist from Melbourne, Australia was playing DC9 when she came to Washington, DC – a venue that, even packed, only holds a couple hundred people. In October, she sold out the Black Cat (capacity 700), but as a co-headliner with the also popular San Fermin. This past weekend, though, she and her band (which she refers to as CB3, for the trio of Barnett, Bones Sloane on bass, and Dave Mudie on drums) played back-to-back sold out nights at the 9:30 Club (capacity 1,200) to a crowd that was there all for her. Her audience in DC has grown by a factor of at least twelve in just over a year’s time (and that’s not counting those who were shut out after the last tickets were sold).
This rise in popularity is in no doubt due to the success of her very strong first album (released earlier this year), Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, and indeed, most of her set was made up of those songs. Opening the show with “Elevator Operator,” Barnett spoke/sung her way through the story of a young man who has grown tired of the daily grind. Other highlights of the set included a rocking “Pedestrian At Best,”along with amped up versions fellow Sometimes tracks “Dead Fox” and “Kim’s Caravan.”
Barnett’s songs are often deeply personal, poetic narratives, with more than a hint of a Patti Smith’s influence on them. But that introspective shine is tempered with a strong dose of 90s alternative rock, which, if you didn’t get the connection on first listen, then her cover of The Breeders’ “Cannonball” Saturday night drove the point home in spades. The set was rounded out by several songs from her first two solo EPs (released as a single disc in the US, The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas last year) – “Lance Jr.,” “Canned Tomatoes (Whole),” and “Avant Gardner.” For the encore of the show, Barnett came to the stage alone and played a stunning solo cover of You Am I’s “Heavy Heart,” after which she was rejoined by the band to play “History Eraser.”
Seattle-based indie rockers Chastity Belt and Australian folksinger Darren Hanlon opened the show.