all photos:Tam Sackman, all words: Svetlana
Last Saturday’s sold out co-headlining show of the 2014 Fall tour of San Fermin and Courtney Barnett (with the increasingly buzzy, and intriguing Mikhael Paskalev opening) was the very definition of “a lil something for everyone” even if those lil somethings seemed to have a lil overlap in the general Venn Diagram of 2014’s music tastes.
In fact, it seemed as if a half-full room of people showed up for Courtney (who played first on Saturday and closed the show on Sunday), then politely bought some sweet t-shirts and cleared out, and a half-full room of other people showed up for San Fermin and stayed. Which, if you read our Concert Etiquette guide is both counter-intuitive and means that everyone had room and good sightlines to enjoy their favorite act of the moment.
Courtney Barnett makes pretty great music, and it is music that can be very much enjoyed recorded, don’t get us wrong. There is an intimacy to the loose limbed observations of her young existence, which carry a certain charm that really only the right kind of people in their mid-twenties can get away with. When she sings, it feels to us as if she really CHATS to the listener about her lazy Sundays or her crushes or her parents worrying about her lack of career and supposed direction, that’s how immediate those lyrics feel. In a sea of overly self-conscious musical PROJECTS that seem to pepper the 2014 sonic landscape, Barnett’s songs comes off as a cool, sleepy younger sisters to the Jens Lekman and Eleanor Friedberger ouevres.
Live though, she rocks. Joined on stage with her band (a bunch of regular old-school touring musician guys who endearingly and geniusly go by TheCourtneyBarnetts) there is a jam session like quality to each riff, and you really FEEL the music. In some ways, maybe this is WHY we go to live shows after all – to hear a LIVE version of a song we loved on an intimate level, in our earbuds, in our bedrooms, on our walks around town.
Those songs, when played not just for you, but for you and 500 or 700 others need to be BIGGER, BOLDER, MESSIER – and Courtney Barnett and TheCourtneyBarnetts do this nearly perfectly. It is not the same experience you had when you first heard them or even first loved them, your feet in your comfiest socks and all, and it shouldn’t be. Afterwards, I went and bought a t-shirt. The only reason I’m not wearing it right now is because I suck and didn’t buy 7 of them so I could wear them seven days a week without the pesky laundry needs getting in the way.
On the other hand, San Fermin is clearly A PROJECT. There is eight people on stage, there are A LOT of instruments, there was a complicated dress being work by someone (it was being worn well, but still) and somehow after the Courtney Barnett experience of pure, glorious pop rock, it felt a little too much, at least for me. If anything, San Fermin (which, I am sure appeals to the kind of people who love Ra Ra Riot and Ben Folds and any other band ever that has classically trained musicians doing indie rock things) seems ready to play a bigger, more polished stage, and I am sure that next time we see them it will be at a place like 9:30 club and the lights will shine brightly on them and the stage will be big enough and the complicated dress may not seem quite as complicated in that context and all will make sense in the world.
For the time being though, for my Saturday night Black Cat show going buck, it is Team Courtney Barnett and TheCourtneyBarnetts ALL THE WAY.