Concert Review: Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile @ Tower Theater

Jen Cloher opened up the night with a stripped down acoustic set of her usually more explosive music. She still managed to light up the room with her songs, interspersed with anecdotes about the words behind them. Cloher’s opening set complemented the rest of the concert well while also distinguishing herself as a songwriter with her own distinct style.

Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett took the stage shortly after, beginning with “Over Everything”. Their introduction felt stiff with the formality of the venue, but they broke out of it quickly through their experimentation with the songs and their natural charm. Their first three songs followed the album exactly, but they soon went into some of their own hits to break apart their collaborative songs. “Over Everything” went from pretty much what one expects when hearing the album to an intricately woven series of chords, looping and turning in strange ways that are hard to comprehend with just your ears.

“Fear Is Like a Forest” broke through the mold, with a darker sound to contrast the first two relatively light-hearted songs. The lights followed suit, bathing the duo in deep reds and blues. Followed by “Continental Breakfast” where they plucked happily along while switching the verses between themselves, perfectly expressing the contented friendship the song is about.

As they went more into some of their own originals, it became more and more clear how this pair operated. As soon as one would take the mic, the other would backup with guitar. For songs like, “On Tour” and “Life Like This,” you could see the more slacker rock influences of Courtney Barnett come out in her style of playing, heavily strumming to Kurt’s words. When Courtney would take the mic, however, Kurt tended to show through with his solos, which stretched out longer and tended to grab your attention, while during the verses he would drop back and use his guitar to harmonize with Barnett’s voice. They used this to turn Courtney’s song “Despreston” from an introspective folk story to a drawn-out and intense rock anthem.

It began to slow down as their set came to a close with “Blue Cheese”, “Dead Fox”, and “Untogether”, but the energy remained vibrant. But seeing as this was a homecoming show for Kurt Vile, it was required to ask for an encore. They picked up their guitars again for a few more including “Pretty Pimpin'”, a Kurt Vile hit, a quick happy birthday song for Courtney accompanied by balloons, which spelled out “CB 30”, and finally, “Avant Gardener”, Courtney’s biggest hit, which got a huge response from the audience as once again her more her folkier song was adapted for a larger venue with the aid of Vile’s brilliant guitar work.

The show served to highlight the synchronicity of Kurt & Courtney, and felt like a little glimpse into their process. Their songs already felt self-referential, but on stage felt more personal; they are telling you their story, the story of how these songs came to be and why this at-first-surprising combination somehow works. Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile are a once-in-a-lifetime duo, and their shows deliver on that. I highly recommend seeing them live before they return to their separate solo careers.

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