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Concert Review - Courtney Barnett: 1/28/2020

(Photo Credit - Pooneh Ghana)

Concert Review - Courtney Barnett and Hachiku, Cleveland, OH

Courtney Barnett is an aggressively prolific musician, having been on tour non-stop since May of 2019, and most recently opted to do her first ever intimate US solo tour. “Intimate” is a great way to describe the show I had the pleasure of attending on January 28th in Cleveland Ohio. An obscure venue, the beautifully acoustic Gartner Auditorium at The Cleveland Museum of Art seats 689 visitors, and even though it was a sold out show, it still felt small and personal. Supporting Barnett on the tour was Australia-via-Germany artist Anika Ostendorf, known on stage as Hachiku. This is not the first time these two incredible musicians have worked together; Ostendorf interned at Barnett’s label Milk! Records during a semester abroad before being signed on, and previously they toured together in 2015 on Courtney Barnett’s European tour. They also appeared together on a split done by independent labels Milk! Records and Bedroom Suck. The two both call Melbourne home base and apparently share the same hairdresser, as told to us by Courtney Barnett herself, followed by “that’s not a joke, we really do.” The two are a perfect match to tour together; they are both soft spoken, seeming to only raise the volume of their voice to make it ring out in a room and give the listener goose bumps. Both appeared on stage to perform stripped down renditions of their work, both equipped with a guitar, while Hachiku also performed with a synth to manifest the dream-like quality of her music.

Hachiku opened the show without any grandeur or introduction to a nearly full house (people who don’t show up for the supporting acts are as bad as people that don’t tip, you can’t change my mind and I’ll never stop being mad about it, thanks for coming to my TED talk…). Her shyness was endearing and had me smiling from the first notes. Her opening number “Al’s Wisdom List” from her 2017 self-titled EP set a dreamy mood that would last the remainder of her set. She delivers her lyrics in a staccato rhythm over an amazing vocal range. For several songs she built layers right on stage, recording herself singing and playing to give the songs greater depth; when she missed a queue beginning a song, she stopped to address the crowd. “If you play the wrong thing,” she softly explained “it haunts you… for five minutes. And it’s embarrassing… for five minutes. So I’m doing it again.”

Hachiku had the audience giggling any time she addressed the crowd, recanting her origin of having been born in Detroit and how her first reusable diapers were bought right there in Cleveland, and doing a humorously bad impersonation of a southern American accent. She had us all laughing at her attempted vague description of a song about balloons and war and the end of the world before jumping into a soft, shoe-gazey cover of Nena’s “99 Luftballons” sang comfortably in her native tongue before switching to the English lyrics for the final verse. I was most moved by Hachiku’s closing cover of The Cranberries “Dreams,” a song I’m not fond of hearing butchered. Dolores O’Riorden herself would have shed a tear at the sleepy, lilting way Hachiku brought the song to life, her high breathy vocals reminiscent of the late singer. Hachiku mostly performed songs from her first EP including singles “Moon Face” and “Zombie Slayer,” sprinkling in a couple newer numbers that I couldn’t for the life of me find anywhere online once I left the venue.

Courtney Barnett also jumped straight into her set, taking the stage in a loose fitting black suit jacket and trousers with a guitar and a coffee mug that she left on top of an amp for most of the set. I admire Courtney Barnett’s unadorned sense of style and presentation, cementing her as one of indie’s biggest capital “R” Rockstars. Seeing Courtney Barnett is truly about a musical experience and I don’t feel like I’m being sold the idea of what music is supposed to look like. She just looks… comfortable. Stripped down to just a guitar, Barnett took her simplistic style to a new level by delivering her lyrics even more conversationally than normal, switching up rhythms we were already comfortable with. That’s probably easy to do when it’s just you and a guitar and you decide the tempo. It also very quickly squashed an uprising of rhythmic clapping that attempted to break out somewhere in the auditorium. On the list of Things I Hate at Shows, after people who don’t watch the supporting acts and people that record the whole set on their smartphone, is rhythmic clapping carried on by people with no sense of rhythm that usually ends up rushing the musician and it becomes uncomfortable when it’s inevitably off beat. Just… don’t do it?

She kicked off her set with a crowd favorite “Avant Gardner” from 2014’s The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas. I’ve been trying to see Courtney Barnett for literal years now, and something always gets in the way. The most recent times were when I couldn’t get off of work to catch her perform at Nelsonville Music Festival in 2016, a similar series of events when she performed here in Columbus last June on tour with The National, and a tragic breakdown in ticketing efficiency that had me hearing this exact number from a Brooklyn sidewalk at the tail end of the same tour last summer after I rode on a bus for 15 hours to get there. Finally getting to see her, and that particular song, did not disappoint one bit. She played a lot of crowd pleasers, mostly tunes from her 2018 album Tell Me How You Really Feel including the anti-misogyny anthem “Nameless, Faceless,” the Neil Young reminiscent “Walking on Eggshells,” and the warm ode to family number “Sunday Roast.” She performed a solo version of “Let It Go,” one of the duet’s she wrote with close friend Kurt Vile for their collaborative album Lotta Sea Lice just after treating us with her latest single “Everybody Here Hates You,” a bluesy tune that I couldn’t help but tap my toe to. During her encore segment, she got the crowd involved by requiring us to chant along to the eerie chorus of “History Eraser” from The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas.

Barnett also blessed us with a number of incredible covers. She delivered a haunting rendition of Hank Williams’ “I’m So Lonesome I Could Cry” followed close by a cover of “Not Only I” by Aussie supergroup Seeker Lover Keeper. During her four-song encore, she brought the mood up with a silly cover of “Being Around” originally by The Lemonheads. After reprising her acoustic performance of “Untitled (Play It On Repeat) she originally recorded for her MTV Unplugged live album, she finally closed out the show with a chilling food-for-thought cover of Gillian Welch’s “Everything is Free.”

Unfortunately I didn’t pick up any merch at this show. Hachiku didn’t have any vinyl available, nor did Courtney Barnett have any copies of The Double EP on vinyl. Hachiku did have dad hats that she has been hand sewing her patches onto during tour, but I look silly in hats.

I would be remiss not to thank Michael La Torre here at Alt Revue and Katie Nelson at Grandstand Media and anyone else down the line that made this opportunity happen. It was a special treat getting to see one of my long time favorite artists perform just a few short days before my birthday! I’ll be keeping my finger’s crossed for a new Courtney Barnett album soon, and to anyone reading this that hasn’t looked up Hachiku yet, what are you waiting for!? This solo tour only has three more shows before it ends this Sunday, February 2 in Sonoma, California.

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