Reviewed on Friday August 30
Courtney Barnett has been building a reputation as Melbourne’s songwriting heroine, but tonight she’s welcomed politely by a largely unfamiliar crowd. Barnett is framed by her bassist and drummer on elevated platforms (full band title: Courtney Barnett and the Courtney Barnetts), but is undeniably the frontperson of this classic three-piece. This members that make up this most basic of garage band lineups visibly grin at each other’s spontaneous choices while playing Barnett’s earlier songs, revealing an excellent grasp of the loose-tight dynamic. Barnett has a distinctive and endearing voice, but to casual listeners her dry delivery could run into monotony – which just means you need to listen more intently. The biggest joys of songs like ‘Avant Gardener’ are the hyper-detailed lyrics, and tonight are a second level to enjoy once deciphered. By the time the set closes with the song everyone knows, ‘History Eraser’, the crowd is suitably appreciative.
Tonight is Big Scary’s first time playing new album Not Art in full, meaning we’re the first punters treated to some of these songs live. The duo and co-vocalists Jo Syme (also on drums) and Tom Iansek (also on guitar, keys and more) have recruited newcomers Gus and Chris to help bring the LP to life, and with the scope of tonight’s display, it’s surprising they don’t need even more. The chest-kicking rock of ‘Hello, My Name Is’ is the perfect starter, and there are a couple of early glitches – ‘Harmony Sometimes’ calls on a high-end vocal that Syme struggles to reach – but this is a niggle in one of the most diverse shows by any one band in Australia. Using MBV-ish soaring noise (‘Belgian Blues’), a plonking piano (‘Twin Rivers’), sampled recordings of NYC gospel singers (‘Why Hip Hop Sucks In ’13’), or a sax solo (‘Long Worry’), it’s part indie gig and part variety show. As a finale, Iansek and Syme run through oldies like ‘Falling Away’ for long-time fans, but there’s no doubt their most impressive material is from right now.
BY SIMON TOPPER