With just a vintage lamp for company, Courtney Barnett ambled onto the Auckland Town Hall stage, electric guitar in hand and jumped straight into a slightly rushed rendition of her hit Avant Gardener. By the end of the song the tremor in her voice was largely gone although she admitted to being nervous - it had been a long time between performances.
Just an hour earlier the stage was graced by another strong female musical presence in the form of NZ singer-songwriter, Emily Edrosa. The former Street Chant front person returned to Aotearoa last year after many years in LA and she brought a new album home with her. The Town Hall audience was seated so reverently for Edrosa that we were reluctant to break the spell so we skulked at the back rather than trying to navigate awkwardly to our seats. With an approach to songwriting that is not dissimilar to Barnett, Edrosa's sound is all her own. Edrosa's vocals are deep, with a raw edge reminiscent of Sleater-Kinney's Carrie Brownstein. With tracks like Drinking During the Day which is full of pain and pathos it is easy to see why Edrosa so easily seduced this crowd.
Usually performing with a full band, this solo show was a departure for Barnett, but one that worked for her, allowing the charm of her story telling to shine through. Her meandering autobiographical lyrics seemed to slink from verse to chorus and back again, evoking a feeling of intimacy, almost like a shared private joke.
Perhaps her freedom in song-writing and the raw honesty of her lyrics is what drew so many ardent fans out on a wintery Sunday night. The completely sold-out show was something every performer must dream of, a crowd so in love with you already, you can do no wrong. After just a few songs, sections of the audience broke ranks and created their own dance floor near the stage, singing every lyric, heads bopping effusively.
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Twice during the set Barnett was joined on stage by bandmate Stella Mozgawa to perform some new songs. Mozgawa added a touch of bass here, and some percussion there, adding layers to the new songs. The crowd loved every new note and were audibly delighted at the news that Barnett will be releasing a new album later in the year.
Heart breakingly brief but brilliant musician, Arthur Russell, made a posthumous cameo during Barnett's performance with her raw and emotive cover of his track, I Never Get Lonesome. Barnett also shared a glimpse of her folk-country leanings later in the evening when she wowed with another cover, this time from the songbook of the great Gillian Welch. Bringing stripped-back ballad Everything is Free to the stage, Barnett miraculously became both Welch and her long-standing collaborator and guitarist Dave Rawlings, at once, her guitar playing wooing the crowd with jangly charm.
Other standouts during the set included History Eraser, one of her earliest hits and the last song of the night, Sunday Roast, from her most recent album, which seemed very appropriate on a Sunday evening.
Barnett is Australian, a fact which comes through very strongly in her lyrics. Whilst the stories she tells are accessible to all, when she talks about it being so hot she feels like dying, only someone who has lived those brutal summer days really gets it. Which is why, as an Australian myself - who hasn't been able to go home for a good long while - her show felt like a long-awaited postcard from home.