Courtney Barnett returned to Cambridge after a sellout show at The Portland last year, this show was originally scheduled for the cosy J2 venue but was moved due to demand resulting in a full house for the much larger J1. There was a huge atmosphere of anticipation and both support acts did her proud, starting with singer/songwriter Fraser A Gorman, all the way from Melbourne. A powerfully strummed acoustic guitar and occasional harmonica were the accompaniment to well-delivered tales of love and life, with a bit of self-deprecating humour between songs, including reference to any perceived similarities to Mr Dylan…
The venue was virtually full (Cambridge audiences get there early…) when Spring King took to the stage. A four piece from Manchester with a singing drummer, two guitars, bass and all four contributing anthemic vocals. Wow. From the first note it was fast, raw, with a loud post-punk simplicity belying some sharp musicianship, a bit like some speeded up mid-period Clash. The short set was a high-energy onslaught, ‘Can I?’ and ‘Better Man’ being standout tracks. Dancing started in the crowd, it was an irresistible sound.
Having seen Courtney Barnett at the much smaller venue I wondered if the intimacy of the lyrical observations and compactness of the band would translate to the echoing chamber of J1, but I need not have worried. There was even a billowing tent-type ceiling angled over the stage, making it smaller and lower and acting as a screen for projections of strange growing plant patterns and psychedelic colours.
Much deserved praise has been written about her way with words, her rambling narratives and wry observations. This was all in place, such as in the opening song ‘Elevator Operator’. Hearing live versions of nearly all of the new album ‘Sometimes I Sit…’, the music shines through too. Bones Sloane on bass plays preposterous low rolling notes on ‘An Illustration Of Loneliness’ creating an atmospheric song that you don’t want to end. A simple two chord structure on ‘Small Poppies’ is developed musically and as you lose yourself into the intoxication of it, fortunately this one never seems to end.
Courtney and the band can rock out, she can extract some adventurous noise from her guitar and drummer Dave Mudie adds the pyrotechnics when necessary. There are quieter times, ‘Depreston’ is mellow and resigned, ‘Debbie Downer’ is a straight down the line pop song. There was easy relaxed interplay from the band with each other and the audience, then gradually the set picked up pace, building towards a finale of ‘History Eraser’ and ‘Pedestrian At Best’ and a bit of crowd surfing from the guitarist from Spring King and others was good to see.
An encore of short burst of energy ‘Aqua Profunda’ and a cover of ‘I’ll Make You Happy’ by the Easybeats and they were gone.
As Courtney’s lyric says ‘Put me on a pedestal and I’ll only disappoint you…’
On this form, I don’t think there will be any disappointment.