Courtney Barnett @ Albert Hall, Manchester, 4 Jun
The Australian DIY poster girl brings her scintillating second LP to Manchester in its entirety
A major part of Courtney Barnett’s appeal is that she marches to the beat of her own drum. That much has been obvious all along; she's one of the great indie rock success stories of the past few years and she's done it all on her own terms. Tonight, T-shirts emblazoned with the logo of Milk! Records, the DIY imprint she runs out of her Melbourne home, hang over the merch stall with equal prominence to the ones with her name on them. It’s a visible reminder of her commitment to her rough-and-ready rock'n'roll roots, even as she’s being profiled by the likes of GQ and Rolling Stone and having her heroes queue up to collaborate with her on her own songs.
She’s in no mood to revert to convention in Manchester, either. Three weeks ago, she released her tremendous sophomore record Tell Me How You Really Feel, a collection every bit as assured as it is confessional. She plays it front to back this evening, opening with the monumentally brooding Hopefulessness which quotes Carrie Fisher ('Take your broken heart / Turn it into art') as it reflects on the divisions of the present political climate – 'You know what they say / No one’s born to hate.'
The new cuts already sound properly fleshed out, from the extended City Looks Pretty intro to the measured punk rock rage of I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch. There’s a touch of stiffness amongst the Albert Hall crowd throughout this part of the set – you get the impression that not everybody here has had as much time with the new LP as they might have liked – but they liven up once she launches into what is effectively the second half of the evening with Avant Gardener.
This is not a performance geared towards Barnett’s noisier tendencies; she finds room for the slow-burning hat-trick of An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York), Small Poppies and Depreston, all plucked from her breakthrough debut album, 2015’s Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. Even during the well-earned encore, she’s initially contrary, opening with the deep cut Anonymous Club. Ultimately, though, it doesn’t matter. What does is that Barnett delivers it all like an old hand.