Live Review: Courtney Barnett with Alvvays at The Moore 4/21/16

Live Reviews
Geran Landen
all photos by Matthew B. Thompson

A warm April Thursday night brought an all-star lineup to the sold-out Moore Theatre in the form of Courtney Barnett and Alvvays. The two groups differ dramatically stylistically, but they are two of the best acts in terms of captivating and connecting with audiences both lyrically and sonically. Alvvays kicked off the night with an onslaught of irresistible indie-pop hooks, escalated further by the perfect lyrical mix of yearning and humor. While many would have been content with the Alvvays set alone, Courtney Barnett took the night to new heights as she meandered through a set that let Seattle experience Courtney Barnett's music in its most honest and intentional form. Alvvays brought their Canadian charm to The Moore to start off what was to be a memorable night. Courtney Barnett's Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit was one of the best albums of last year, an honor Alvvay's self-titled debut surely earned in 2014. It's a sentiment certainly reflected in their quick rise, as the band that played Barboza only last year had the majority of The Moore singing along to almost every song. As the group's cascading guitars settled into Molly Rankin's crystalline vocals, it was immediately apparent that the newfound popularity was more than deserved. They greeted the eve of their last night touring with Courtney Barnett with smiles and new songs, and Rankin bantered with the crowd throughout, once even mid-chorus. Rankin and crew have always had an amazing ability to make you feel the yearn and ache of the goings of everyday life, an ability that makes their songs addicting in both a sonic and sentimental sense. In this sense, they were the perfect opener for Courtney Barnett.


Courtney Barnett's recorded music strolls through the airwaves, sauntering about her lackadaisical cadence. It's music that is certainly easy to get lost in, the shimmering guitar lines and fun jam interludes beg you to drift away with them, making it easy to overlook the depth and honesty Barnett's songwriting embeds in her sonic wanderings. Her honest reflections on the parts of life often overlooked by sensationalist song writing and the growling of guitar that makes the occasional appearance, creates a darker current in many of Barnett's songs. The result is sunshine with an undertow of reality and when joined by Mudie and Bones to form CB3, the act brought out both sides of the duality, creating a different but no less enjoyable Courtney Barnett experience.

What Courtney Barnett can do with a guitar certainly warrants the argument that she could tour as a solo act and thrive, but the contributions of Mudie and Bones on drums, bass and backing vocals should not be downplayed. Besides offering a rhythmic punch and bringing the boomeranging bass lines to life, Bones and Mudie offered rough harmonies that gave lyrics a little more punch, a habit that seems to be built into the upcoming project, as the new song Barnett shared featured their vocals occupying a prevalent part of the chorus. The shift in vocal dynamics was not the only new element the live show introduced either. A huge screen displayed an array of cartoons, pop art animations and minimalist film. The effectiveness of the visuals reached a climax as Barnett started a roaring rendition of "Small Poppies." A one-eyed monster ran through a forest, an image that does not immediately fit with the swaying guitar and dreary delivery characterizing the first half of the song. But as the track escalated into a howling jam tangent that held far more venom than the studio recording and Barnett screamed the last lines of the song, the visuals and performance made you look at the song for what it was always meant to be. You could no longer ignore the fact that the song you were just nodding your head to ended with the lyrics "I dreamed I stabbed you with a coat hanger wire."

It is hard to capture the full spectrum of emotions found in the trivialities of life in three minute increments without being overly depressing, cheesy or insincere. It is why most have bands for happy times and bands for sad ones. But Barnett's songwriting possesses a unique honesty that makes it a perfect fit for the whole range of emotions life throws at you. And while you can chose to ignore the highs and the lows in the comforts of your own home, Barnett's live show revealed the intentionality of her songwriting in unavoidable ways. This being said, while the show and Barnett's songwriting were surely effective in bringing out the darker sides of life, they may have been even more effective as a lesson in not taking life too seriously. Barnett's lyrics are often coated with a good dose of humor and the onstage antics and visuals also played to that. Cartoon animals and comic scenes were present for the more lighthearted songs and the good humor was infectious as the sold out Moore made every effort to clap and sing along whenever offered the opportunity. Barnett's words of "We like you a lot and its fun" were reciprocated fully, and by the time set ending song "Pickles In a Jar" came around, when Barnett said "Christopher" the entirety of The Moore agreed with a resounding "Walken."

Courtney Barnett

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