Live Review: Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile at the Moore Theatre 10/21

all photos by Dave Lichterman (view set)

Categorization systems are important for us as humans. It’s how we make sense of this sometimes nonsensical world we live in. Which is why as soon as radio delivered us a bevy of different styles of music, we immediately had to put everyone into categories, starting with the basics: jazz, rock, classical, and eventually getting hyper-specific i.e. post-rock, new wave, shoegaze, chillwave. Well, for me, since I was a child, I always put music in two categories: sun music and rain music. Now, the problem with this categorization method is that it’s completely subjective and not based on science or reason. It’s based solely on whether I prefer to listen to something when it’s raining (and/or grey aka a normal Seattle day) or if it’s one of those miraculous sunny days. According to this categorization system, Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile are 100% sun music. Their very similar lackadaisical guitar-based sounds seem perfect for a lazy day in the sun. Which is why it’s ironic (and somewhat frustrating, for me) that they played on an incredibly blustery, rainy evening, one of the first few of the season. Despite this strange juxtaposition (to me), the show was beyond splendid and I quickly got over my categorization obsessions (take that, OCD).

Opening act (and Barnett’s wife) Jen Cloher is incredibly charming. Alone on the stage, with just her guitar, Cloher manages to make the 1,800 capacity theatre feel like an intimate performance from a friend. While Cloher may be relatively unknown in the States, in her native Australia she’s a well-known presence with a rich discography. Her third LP, In Blood Memory, was shortlisted for the Australian Music Prize in 2013 and in many ways Barnett owes much of her success to Cloher, who paved the way before her. She writes honestly and openly about the unfairness of her situation and the difficulty of breaking into the American music scene on her latest self-titled album but here, on stage, she doesn’t seem one bit jealous. She tells a number of charming stories about getting in trouble with her mom for playing video games and making a list of qualities wanted in a partner only to end up finding someone who is the complete opposite (this story is made so much cuter knowing that she’s with Barnett, even though Cloher never outright says her name) and then quickly burning the list so that her partner doesn’t find it. Knowing her background, I’m personally very excited that she’s finally getting her shot at recognition via this tour.

In The Moore, with a theatre full of seats, it’s a confusing scenario to navigate for a rock show. Should you stand and enjoy the show the way you would at most venues, but block all the other people comfortably enjoying the show from their seats? Around the third song in, a few brave people decided to stand and start dancing which started a wave of people following suit. Which is totally fine, until some of them started heckling the people choosing to sit. “Stand! You can see better! Don’t be a typical Seattleite!” I understand their position but considering 90% of the shows I go to are in are standing-room-only sweaty basements, I was enjoying the opportunity to just sit comfortably and enjoy the show for once. Unfortunately, enough people started standing and blocking my view, so up I went.

There was very little speaking or crowd interaction from Kurt or Courtney, which wasn’t surprising. Their brand of introspective songwriting doesn’t read as “extrovert.” The first time Kurt spoke was about six songs in with this very wordy refrain: “This next song is about being on tour and….ya know. The good and the bad.” Whoa, simmer down, Kurt! This isn’t The King’s Speech! But, in all seriousness, I’m totally fine with little to no on-stage banter and the rest of crowd seemed more than okay with it as well.

Speaking of that crowd (again), it turns out that Vile and Barnett have very loyal and enthusiastic fans. It was an interesting mix, age-wise in the crowd. The older crowd, many in their 50s and 60s, were quietly enjoying the show, while the younger, 30s and late 20s, were the ones on the far more fervent side. There was a bit of friction between the two groups, with each group feeling like the other way messing up the show for them. The “enthusiastic” ones were upset about the people sitting and the people sitting were upset about the others yelling out screams of “I love you Courtney!” and “You’re hot too Kurt!” to the stage. Will this beef ever be squashed?! Stay tuned for next week’s episode.

The setlist was made up of five or six songs off of Lotta Sea Lice and the rest was taken from Barnett and Vile’s solo material, with a couple of covers thrown in. The show kicked off with lead single “Over Everything” which features the two artists at their most deadpan. They play “Out of the Woodwork,” “Depreston,” and “Dead Fox” from Barnett’s catalog and “On Tour” and “Life Like This” from Vile’s. They end the set with a cover of Belly’s “Untogether” which is also the closing track on Lotta Sea Lice. For the encore, they come back with a cover of Gillian Welch’s “Elvis Presley Blues” and move on to the most beloved songs from each artist: “Pretty Pimpin” and “Avant Gardener.” The crowd is wholly satisfied with this choice.

The backing band The Sea Lice is made up of an all-star cast of Janet Weiss (Sleater-Kinney, Wild Flag) on the drums, Rob Laakso (The Violators, The Swirlies, Mice Parade) on bass, and Katie Harkin (Harkin, Sky Larkin, and touring member of Sleater-Kinney and Wild Beasts) on the keyboard. It’s quite a spectacle seeing all these legends and masters on one stage and a fully memorable evening. Rain be damned.

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