Show Review: Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile

Live at the Orpheum Theatre, Boston
by Erin Ober

I love being one of the firsts at a concert. Anticipation builds as each person files in; as each additional seat fills up. On Saturday night, the 4th of November, I waited patiently in my seat, eavesdropping on conversations about the sold-out show. Old school jukebox tunes floated softly in the air, as the murmuring few turned into a bustling crowd, before my eyes. On stage, every instrument was covered except for two acoustic guitars placed in the middle. Eventually, the lights cut out, and Jen Cloher stepped out on stage, opening the show.

Jen made one of the oldest mistakes in the book, when she accidentally called Boston “Chicago.” Thankfully, the crowd was forgiving and she started off with an even more stripped down version of her song “Save Me From What I Want.”  I really connect with the way she tells her story through her songs. Her voice is so clear, yet almost hoarse when she brings in a slight growl on certain lines. There is something beautiful and vulnerable about an artist performing with just an acoustic guitar, and Jen was able to captivate the audience with the simplicity of her performance. I also loved how personal she got with us in between songs, sharing stories about the bitterness she felt when Courtney left her to tour, being in love with Jim Morrison, when it wasn’t cool, being single for too long, and her love of video games as a ten-year-old. Her set came to a close, and although I wanted more from her, I was ready to hear the main act.

Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile came out with a full band, and dove right into their set with their single “Over Everything.” Decked out in plaid, the duo sounded incredibly similar to the record. Both of their styles thrive in the space between talking and singing; imagine Bob Dylan reborn as an indie artist. The band was tight and the drummer, Stella Mozgawa, held an incredible pocket the entire time. Kurt had such a unique presence on stage, and didn’t even seem to notice that the audience was there. His guitar was clearly a part of him, and when his luscious locks flowed in front of his face during a solo, you could really feel the connection. Most of his backup vocals were either spoken, or down the octave from Courtney, but his voice is interesting enough, that he can get away with such simplicity. Courtney’s songs were much easier to sing along to, and perhaps this was why it felt like a lot more of the audience was there to see her, specifically. One of the highlights for me was her song “Depreston,” a great example of Courtney’s witty lyrics, and amazing songwriting chops. As they closed the show, I got excited when the bassist pulled out a slide for the song “Untogether”.

Overall, I recommend checking out all three of these artists. I greatly enjoyed the show, and will definitely be on the lookout for new releases and more performances from Jen, Kurt, and Courtney.