- The Big Scary
Whispers from All Tomorrow’s Parties are whisking around the Liverpool’s music glitterati: COURTNEY BARNETT is a musician on form. Word on the street is she played a blinder at a Pontins in Prestatyn over the weekend and now, on a humble Tuesday eve, the Aussie purveyor of punky garage witty brilliance is to grace our mortal midst. First up, though, is a local purveyor of the same kind of kin, ZUZU. A perfect choice for the night’s proceedings it seems. Her lyrics are astute, the guitars jarring, the voice yearning, and the melodies very much intact, but the lilt in the accent is Liverpudlian rather than Antipodean. Not fazed by the size of the venue, which is already brimming despite the clock, Zuzu and band deliver a confident set, and early observers can’t help but bop along a little to the commanding Get Off.
Friends of Barnett’s, BIG SCARY are next up. A mismatched melange who tonight don’t seem to live up to their name. The set feels more like a live jam session soundtracked by the tinkling of drippy ‘Keaneboards’, with players chopping and changing instruments throughout; the only constant the drummer who exhausts a persistent beat. A saxophone is added and things perk up a bit, but the crowd still aren’t convinced: a bit tame overall, definitely neither big, nor scary.
The words ‘raw’ and ‘energy’ get sellotaped together and parcel-passed around live reviews section twice weekly, but Courtney Barnett completely justifies the well-worn term. The singer and guitarist pours onto the stage, accompanied only by a rhythm section, who are steadfast the whole set through, and some graphics behind her. Starting off by ripping into the observational Elevator Operator, the first track off her debut full-length LP, Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, from beginning to end, the set is faultless. Full of lyrics that read like Doolittle’s Imagists or O’Hara’s Personism – describing scenes with sharp focus and documenting the run-of-the-mill – coupled with punchy guitars, lilting and melodic in some places, desperately heavy in others, Barnett is a master of her craft, but human and palpable all the same, and ever poetically matter of fact.
Despite Barnett-and-band’s verve, the crowd are subdued but the atmosphere suits her downtempo songs, An Illustration of Loneliness in New York and Depreston making for real heart yanking numbers. Depreston especially, which she introduces as a slow and plays like a Polaroid; detailing a defeated acceptance of growing older, and contemplating a move to less than ideal suburbs. Her descriptions are so vivid, it comes as no surprise that Barnett has a background in photography; she has an eye, an ear, and a razor-sharp tongue for detail.
Kim’s Caravan towards the end of the set hits home as she tires ‘so take what you want from me / don’t ask me what I really mean’ over and over, her vocal ranging from hoarse and throaty to crushingly vulnerable. Her lyrics are often read as confessional, and you can’t help feel this is a two fingers up; the surging, stentorian guitars give it away. For closers Debbie Downer and Pedestrian At Best, there’s a slight murmur of a moshpit from a mature crowd. Maybe it’s the awe and mesmerisation that’s keeping them statue-still.