WRITTEN BY: Tim Shermer
Australian singer-songwriter and indie superstar Courtney Barnett dazzled a sold-out crowd on the first night of her 2020 solo US tour at premier Wilmington, Delaware venue the Queen last Thursday.
It was an occasion fit for the First State: the first stop on her first-ever tour without bandmates Bones Sloane and Dave Mudie—and her first time playing a Delaware venue that wasn’t Firefly. Before setting off on the three-week, 14-show jaunt, Barnett warmed up her solo routine at Wilco’s Sky Blue Sky Festival on the Yucatán peninsula and a two-night run opening for Brandi Carlile in Nashville.
Barnett is joined on the road by fellow Milk! Records artist Hachiku, and the room was already about three-quarters full for her opening set. Hachiku, known to friends and family as Anika Ostendorf, played a seven-song set on keyboards and guitar that included dreamy covers of “99 Luftballons” (Ostendorf spent most of her childhood in Germany) and “Dreams” by the Cranberries, as well as selections from her eponymous EP. A meeting of a synth-y, shoegaze-informed dream pop and the occasional clever guitar passage, Hachiku’s sound might find company among a Slowdive or Japanese Breakfast, with a distinct sense for melody setting her apart even before the release of a debut full-length album.
After a lengthy intermission soundtracked by enough Neil Young and ‘80s alternative for the whole family, Barnett took the stage accompanied by only her black Telecaster. She began with her 2014 breakout hit “Avant Gardener,” with most of the room half-singing-half-speaking along to the witty lyrics (“The paramedic thinks I’m clever ‘cause I play guitar/I think she’s clever ‘cause she stops people dying”).
About a third of the setlist was pulled from Barnett’s most recent LP, 2018’s Tell Me How You Really Feel, a critical and commercial success that made it onto some best-of-the-2010s lists and probably features her most band-oriented sound. This made for particularly mesmerizing renditions of “Nameless, Faceless” and “Walkin’ on Eggshells,” which translated perfectly as solo performances thanks to her signature room-filling deadpan vocals and creative guitar figures to fill in the cracks.
Barnett, originally from Sydney’s Northern Beaches and a current resident of Melbourne, took a moment in between songs to comment on the devastating wildfires that have been burning across the Australian continent. She then dedicated a stirring cover of Hank Williams’s “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” to the millions of animals that have been killed in the fires.
Other covers from the night included Seeker Lover Keeper’s “Not Only I” and the Lemonheads’ “Being Around,” the latter of which she played at the start of the encore and introduced as “a song I wish I wrote… but obviously, I didn’t.”
She also played “Let It Go” from 2017’s Lotta Sea Lice, singing both parts of what was originally written as a duet with Kurt Vile (the room burst into a most rapturous applause when she lamented that Kurt wasn’t on stage with her to perform it) and her bluesy, improvisational 2019 single “Everybody Here Hates You.”
Aside from the Lemonheads cover, the encore consisted of a brief Q&A with the loudest members of the audience, a happy-birthday chorus for a fan, and a commanding version of early-career composition “History Eraser.” Barnett closed the set with her newest original song, “Untitled (Play It On Repeat),” first heard on her December 2019 MTV Unplugged session, and perhaps a hint at more original solo-oriented music in the near future.
Barnett’s coast-to-coast tour will continue at a rapid clip for the next two weeks, making stops at historic venues like Boise’s Knitting Factory and the Palace Theater in LA. You can donate to Australian bushfire relief here.
- Avant Gardener
- Need a Little Time
- Nameless, Faceless
- Dead Fox
- Walkin’ on Eggshells
- Elevator Operator
- I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry (Hank Williams cover)
- Not Only I (Seeker Lover Keeper cover)
- Sunday Roast
- Everybody Here Hates You
- Let It Go
- Being Around (Lemonheads cover)
- History Eraser
- Untitled (Play It On Repeat)
Follow writer Tim Shermer on Twitter @tdshermer