Courtney Barnett Previews New LP
Mohawk hosts Margaret Atwood-quoting barrage
By Rachel Rascoe,
11:15AM, Tue. May 15, 2018
Monday night, four days shy of her new LP, Aussie rock heroine Courtney Barnett treated Austin to one of the “rare, intimate album warm-up parties” preceding the release of Tell Me How You Really Feel. Commemorating the occasion, the snarky singer played the droll, introspective work in its entirety to a sold-out crowd at Mohawk.
The uniqueness of the occasion came into question by fans following the event’s recent relocation from Saengerrunde Hall. In a Facebook comment, promoter Margin Walker Presents blamed the move on a change in the capacity of the German beer garden after a recent fire inspection. The concert’s new locale on Red River kept to a few hundred under capacity so as to approximate the originally-intended intimacy.
Local favorite Molly Burch opened with a windswept 40 minutes of honeyed pop, soundtracking the sunset’s progression into dusk on the outdoor stage. Having pulled wholly from her acclaimed debut Please Be Mine, the Los Angeles-raised singer suddenly unveiled a new cut mid-show. Swoony “Good Behavior” teased a forthcoming continuation of her wistful, yearning melodies.
Launching a 75-minute set, album intro “Hopefulessness” proved a perfect reference for the new work’s puzzling blend of bright sympathy and existential pessimism. The song’s slow build instituted a pattern for the evening, in which the artist’s clever, calm wordplay decompressed into a final barrage of gristly guitar and shaggy hair flips.
Barnett’s backing band, comprised of Katie Harkin on keyboards and guitar, Bones Sloane on bass, and Dave Mudie on drums, fueled the recurring instrumental escalations.
The frontwoman’s grinding guitar work let off major steam in “Nameless, Faceless,” an upbeat, Margaret Atwood-quoting barrage on violence against women. Fiery frustration channeled directly into the following take, where a seething, but relatively still Barnett shouted lines on toxic masculinity.
“That one was called ‘I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch.’ This next song is called ‘Crippling Self Doubt and a General Lack of Self-Confidence,’” she deadpanned to audience chuckles. “You don’t know it yet, but you can sing along.”
After working through Tell Me’s 10 effusive tracks, the Melbourne-based singer revisited ambling indie breakout “Avant Gardener.” The final 30 minutes of fan favorites came to a head on a spaced-out, tweaked-up rendition of “Small Poppies,” all amplified to scratchy, abrasive lyrics screamed by Barnett.
Lovely, simmering “Depreston” cut the tension, and a blazing chat delivery of final “Pedestrian at Best” caught the performer in her prime. Despite the show’s unintended venue, which felt slightly more spacious than any other sold-out Mohawk show, Courtney Barnett’s singular nonchalance landed blunt force.