Kurt & Courtney’s Last Stand
Tour finale proves somewhat sleepy
By Libby Webster,
11:50AM, Sun. Nov. 12, 2017
Cerebral Aussie rocker Courtney Barnett and Philly psych twanger Kurt Vile are unparalleled in their detail-oriented, stream-of-consciousness songwriting. Lotta Sea Lice, a sleepy album coalescing the idiosyncrasies of both weirdos, dropped mid-October and sold out ACL Live at the Moody Theater Saturday night for the duo’s final show of the tour.
Australian singer-songwriter Jen Cloher opened with a tidy half-hour set, her first time performing locally. Abandoning the fuller sound that makes up her self-titled album from this summer, she performed only with an acoustic guitar and belting, honeyed voice. Wistful “Sensory Memory,” which its author explained was about her romantic partner Barnett touring constantly, exemplified her quiet compositional prowess.
Impossibly charming via stories about becoming an expert at Galaga, an obsession with Jim Morrison, and all her time spent sitting on the couch, Cloher exuded an inviting warmth.
Depending on your POV, that was either the perfect or a perplexing way to open an evening for Vile and Barnett, a guitarist-vocalist pairing that engaged in hardly any stage banter at all. Across 90 minutes, the duo stuck to the set list they’ve staged for the entirety of the tour. It was business as usual for the group, which included bassist Rob Laakso, Katie Harkin on keys, and show-stealing drummer Stella Mozgawa from Warpaint.
Culling mostly from Lotta Sea Lice, the co-bandleaders kicked off with the meandering, low-energy “Over Everything” and slipped into “Let It Go,” the latter leaning heavily on Vile’s nimble fingerpicking. The two also worked in their individual work. Vile’s “Pretty Pimpin” and “Life Like This,” both from 2015’s B’lieve I’m Going Down..., as well as Barnett’s lovely “Depreston” and frenetic “Dead Fox” all made appearances.
An excellent cover of Belly’s “Untogether” and Cloher’s “Fear Is Like a Forest” showcased Barnett beautifully, her voice stretching into unfamiliar depths. The same proved true for a cover of Gillian Welch’s “Elvis Presley Blues,” first song of the encore, even though Barnett and Vile didn’t stray from the folky original. Barnett’s breakout single, “Avant Gardener,” closed.
Vile functioned mostly as a stationary mass of brown curls and flannel, noodling expertly on guitar. More compelling to watch was Barnett, her brash voice dynamic and a perfect foil to Vile’s quiet twang. Even so, sonically, the show ultimately felt more like Vile’s than Barnett’s.
Despite the slacker image foisted upon Barnett, the bulk of her music thrums a raw energy that explodes with endlessly punchy pop. Vile, on the other hand, has never felt in a rush to get anywhere across a sprawling discography, always skewing somewhat meditative and thoughtful. Despite the obvious chill prowess of both, the messy intensity of Barnett went missed.