If anybody else were to do what Courtney Barnett does at her shows, there’s no way it would work nearly as well. Playing primarily from her new album Tell Me How You Really Feel, and adding in her own spins on songs, including drawn out solos and rephrasing lyrics, Courtney mesmerized the crowd at the Fillmore for a quick set that wrapped by eleven. Her energy seemed to feed off the enthusiasm from the audience on a Tuesday night, and she showed it in every song.
Waxahatchee opened promptly, beginning her set solo for a couple songs. The crowd was cold at first, but quickly warmed to the Philly favorite. “It’s good to be back here, my long-time home. It still feels like home,” Katie Crutchfield remarked after her first song. She rocked an acoustic guitar, and when I say rocked, I mean that in the softest sense. She tended to stick to simple chords, which only left all the more room for her wonderful voice to fill the space. Her voice makes me nostalgic for a time I can’t quite place, but it’s not unlike first hearing her in high school as part of p.s. eliot, her former band with her sister, Alison.
She was joined by guitarist Katie Harkin, who added some lush electric to the remainder of the opening set, especially for some tracks off of Crutchfield’s latest release, an EP titled Great Thunder, after another former project of her’s. The duo played a lengthier set, but it was warranted judging by the growing applause throughout. Wrapping up with a cover of Kevin Morby’s “Downtown’s Lights” and her track “La Loose,” Waxahatchee was certainly the focus of many crowd members’ attendance that night.
After a brief break featuring house music from Mitski and Kurt Vile, Courtney Barnett took her place center stage. She began with a performance of the opener from this year’s Tell Me How You Really Feel, “Hopefulessness,” a slow and dispassionate song, which lazily drifts and hangs near the lower side. The room picked up again with “City Looks Pretty” and “Avant Gardener,” the former a new favorite and the latter her biggest hit, and she treats it that way live.
She followed with a string of songs off her latest release. Here, I’ll admit that I haven’t kept the closest eye on her newer work since 2017’s Lotta Sea Lice, a pinnacle in my opinion. However, that was irrelevant in performance. Barnett’s vigor for the new songs made them feel familiar, and most were sung straight back to her verbatim from the audience. Those that I felt sounded flat recorded were anything but, especially with the pound of the drums nailing the feminist messages and blatant rebellion into my skull to rattle around. I also got the sense that Barnett has been wanting to take a darker edge with this album, drawing harder on punk rock rather than folk and blues, between which she has always towed the line.
She then turned to some hits off of Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometime I Just Sit. As was the case with her performance last year with Kurt Vile, “Despreston” was less the quietly reflective tune and more a rock anthem, with slight variations in strumming and picking than originally, and finally building to a sort-of stadium piece, with Barnett shredding the bluesy melody.
For a cover of “Houses” by Elyse Weinberg, Barnett brought out Waxahatchee to join her, and the two harmonized choruses and traded off vocals for the verses. The two clearly have skills in making even recent songs feel like they grew up with them.
Barnett drew the show to a close with “History Eraser,” another big hit for the audience that exploded into a full-blown event within its runtime. She was brought back for an encore, beginning with a cover of Gillian Welch’s “Everything Is Free,” which she performed solo in one of the quieter moments of the night. The song got a similar treatment, with Barnett replacing Dave Rawlings’ signature guitar part with her own idiosyncratic plucking that complimented her inflection. She then gave a performance of “Anonymous Club” and “Pedestrian At Best” to close out the night.
Barnett has the ability to bring her own style into each of her songs, to toy around with each one of them when performing live and give what feels like an entirely unique performance, like improvisation but better. Though I am remiss that for a Philadelphia show, neither Vile nor any songs off Lotta Sea Lice were anywhere to be found, the concert was satisfying in its grandeur, eccentricity, and contagious excitability. Barnett may be hiding a showman within herself, and I can’t wait to see where that energy will take her. When it comes to performance, Courtney Barnett is entirely her own.