Metro audience thinks Barnett ‘clever cos she plays guitar’

Australian singer/songwriter Courtney Barnett re-energized the audience at the Metro, 3730 N. Clark St., on Oct. 27 after San Fermin’s disappointing performance.

By Assistant Arts & Culture Editor

With bubblegum-pop princesses dominating the airwaves, it is easy to forget about edgy female musicians such as Kim Gordon of Sonic Youth or Exile In Guyville-era Liz Phair, who only needed a guitar and a microphone to deliver beautiful music. However, Melbourne, Australian rocker Courtney Barnett proved that there is still a glimmer of hope for the industry with her incredible Oct. 27 set at the Metro, 3730 N. Clark St. 

Barnett took to the stage after a disappointing hour-long set by the Brooklyn-based eight-piece band San Fermin. The band performed with its new singer Charlene Kaye but failed to mesh with the audience. Kaye, who filled in vocals for the band’s self-titled debut album’s original vocalists Holly Laestig and Jess Wolfe of Lucius, was a clear distraction from the rest of the group. Her overly dramatic theater kid-like expressions and over reaching voice did not quite gel with lead singer Allen Tate’s monotone vocal delivery.

The band played some tracks from its 2013 album, including “Methuselah,” with Tate seemingly doing his best vocal impression of The National’s Matt Berninger. Kaye’s overly sensualized stage performance distracted from the song’s quiet beauty, stealing most of the attention from the ensemble and missing an opportunity to win the floor audience over.

Although the performance did not quite stick with the jaded audience, it is not to say San Fermin did not try to liven things up. The band’s trumpet player John Brandon even made an attempt at getting the place going by jumping into the middle of the packed audience and blaring his brass in the faces of iPhone-wielding youngsters. 

After San Fermin finished the hour-long set with a new, unreleased song “Philosopher,” a much better performance than many of the other tracks, the semi-disappointed Metro audience was in need of an energy boost. Lucky for them, Barnett made her way onto the stage, bringing with her a carefree ‘90s slacker rock attitude that was a welcome shot in the arm for the nonchalant audience.

In stark contrast to the loudly jumbled stiffness of San Fermin’s performance, Barnett strummed her guitar without a pick and spun around the stage with her messy bangs swinging past over face all night, embodying the chaotic stage persona of a Nevermind-era Kurt Cobain reincarnated. 

The singer performed her entire set in front of projected images from the “Anonymous Club” music video, a song from her 2013 EP How To Carve a Carrot into a Rose. The song of the album’s name brought down the house, thanks to Barnett’s gravelly voice and muted guitar work. Barnett’s performance was reminiscent of singer Sharon Van Etten as her raspy vocal performance soared to the top of the Metro’s upper-level balcony.

Barnett, who returned to the Windy City for the fourth time since releasing her 2012 EP I’ve Got a Friend Called Emily Ferris as well as How to Carve a Carrot into a Rose, is not a singer known for her banter. Other than the occasional “Oi” chant before a song, Barnett lets her wry and autobiographical lyrics do most of the talking for her. Such was the case on her single “Avant Gardener,” a personally inspired song about having an asthma-induced anaphylactic  attack during an Australian heat wave.

Barnett finished her pre-encore set with a sped-up version of “Avant Gardener,” which was named “Best New Track” by Pitchfork in 2013. Her band rocked out to the single as if it were straight from the early ‘90s rock scene, with Barnett throwing her guitar over her shoulder and not once seeming worried about her appearance. The song’s ending guitar solo scored with the newly revitalized audience, capping off a stellar performance before Barnett returned to the stage for a three-song encore.

Barnett showed the Chicago audience that although it is rare to hear great musical artists on popular radio today, there are still people out there who can strap on a guitar and take an audience for a wild ride. With her performance at the Metro, Barnett cemented her status as one of the most promising rock goddesses on the scene today.