Review: Big Concert Halls Make Me Sad Even When Courtney Barnett Plays in Them

courtney-barnett-live-at-huxleys-indieberlin-review

There’s something that always feels strange and a little exhausting about basement and backyard musicians playing big corporate concert halls, like an intimate moment made inappropriately public.

Such was my experience of Courtney Barnett’s performance at Huxley’s last week. I’ll start from the beginning in order to better outline my overall feelings of the night and perhaps provide a little context (the context being that it was the first time I saw “reasonably” priced American whiskey since I moved here four months ago).

The opening act was Laura Jean, a name that sounded vaguely familiar but not one that I directly recognized. Apparently, she announced at some point, she and Courtney Barnett were childhood friends. Similar to that fact was the general vibe of her whole set. She was alone on stage and sang quietly about teenage insecurities and heartbreak. She even messed up several times mid-song, in the most graceful way possible, and started from the beginning. For some acts, that would seem unpracticed but it just added to the feeling of intimacy. The problem was every time I would start to feel endeared, I would feel the general huge expensiveness of Huxley’s.

my eyes landed on the bizarre fact that Bulleit Bourbon, usually three or four times the price in the U.S., was going for the exact same price as the Jim Beam

I wandered slowly through the crowd, trying to see what kind of people were shelling out the €40 to be there. I wandered over to the bar. Beers were €6 for a 40 cl cup of Berliner Pilsner. I shook my head when the bartender asked if I wanted one. He shrugged and walked away. I walked over to the bar on the other side of the hall. They had 2 cl shots of Jim Beam for €2.50. Then my eyes landed on the bizarre fact that Bulleit Bourbon, usually three or four times the price in the U.S., was going for the exact same price as the Jim Beam. I bought a shot. It tasted like home. I listened to a little more Laura Jean. I bought another shot. Laura Jean finally, quietly, walked off stage and I bought one more for good measure.

It felt to me like someone had taken a post-coital portrait and published it in a fashion magazine

By the time Courtney Barnett and her band took the stage I was feeling pleasantly warm all over. And I have to give it to her, she does seem to be trying her best to own the big stage. She rotated back and forth between old crowd favorites like Avant Gardener and songs off of her newer album “Tell Me How You Really Feel”. Her guitar was slung low and she struck cords violently, strutting back and forth. The colorful lights flashed throughout the auditorium. But I just could not shake the feeling that we were in the wrong venue. Her lyrics are so intimate and, to be honest, some of her older music personally important to me. It felt to me like someone had taken a post-coital portrait and published it in a fashion magazine. It made me so sad I left midway through. I was the only one walking out and the security guards asked if I was lost.

Reflecting back on the experience, I recognize that their new fame is most likely great for Laura Jean and Courtney Barnett. They’re probably making a lot more money, their lyrics are getting to more people, etc. I don’t fault them for how it made me feel and I can’t even take the  (always kind of weird) attitude that I knew about it first and therefore my experience of the music is somehow more pure, because that actually isn’t the case. I tuned in late and I haven’t ever seen her in a smaller venue anyway. Perhaps it’s just a personal problem in that I have trouble feeling anything but exhaustion and sadness in venues like that. It feels like a perversion of the point of the music that’s being played. Like I’m experiencing the whole thing through €40 of plastic wrap. I might as well have just stayed home and listened to her album in my bedroom.

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