Courtney Barnett
WOMAdelaide Festival
Tainmuntilla / Botanic Park
9:45pm, 12 March 2022

We open on an anticipatory main-stage, dressed like a suburban living room dreamscape: fabric lampshades, elongated drab off-white curtains streaming from above a stage otherwise painted black, lit red; the haphazard amp stacks and slightly-raised drum and keyboard sets completing the sharehouse house-party picture: a setting evoking appropriate anticipation for the level of intimacy and humility – and unabashed good times – which were about to ensue.

Ensue they did, as Barnett and a very talented band emerged and got straight down to business in their Womad debut, and first Australian show in three years. Seemingly feeling right at home, the four-piece rock and roll teamwork of guitar, bass, keys and drums unwaveringly scaffolded Barnett’s forthright lyrical stylings, loping swagger and earnest low-key charisma.

The evening primarily showcased Barnett’s 2021 release, ‘Things Take Time, Take Time’, an album which remains true to Barnett’s core business of genius modern poet, while building rich melodies and arrangements, well-suited to bigger stages and bigger crowds – in this way, a departure from the thoroughly endearing pub-folk stylings of her earlier works. The hour-plus set was of course punctuated with said earlier works, each song an overwhelming reminder of the Australian songwriter’s prolific near-decade of releases.

Steeped in the perfect Adelaide evening air, under a gibbous moon, a truly intergenerational crowd (shout out to the growlers near me with the contraband hotel-mini-bar bottles stowed in the back-pack and the youths down the front moshing to ‘Pedestrian at Best’), was calmed and captivated, by Barnett’s tales of oblique and complex relationships, millennials’ existential dread of the real estate market, and the dangers of asthmatic gardening; her talent in transmuting the prosaic to the profound, through incisive juxtaposition and plain-spoken truth-telling, on full display.

There were a couple of sad omissions from the setlist (Ms Barnett asked us not to talk about a minor on-stage incident, but she did not play Pickles from the Jar – much to the chagrin of a crowd of a therein name-checked city), but the gaps were simply testament to the strength and breadth of Barnett’s back-catalogue.

Truly a person of the moment, Barnett’s disarmingly upfront explorations of the existential pain of the utterly mundane, speak to a generation (or more) coming to grips with the complexities of the inner-lives of a post-post-history world. This performance showed that Barnett’s wit and talent have propelled her to success and fame, but her humility and authenticity have cemented her status as absolute icon.

Ran Boss

Photos by Sahil Choujar

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