Courtney Barnett Rocks Somerset House With Her Unassuming Grace & Undeniable Swagger
Courtney hit Somerset House's Summer Series last night and here's what happened...
Following an afternoon that could have easily turned into another drizzly summer evening, the sun has just about managed to pull through and greet the after work crowd at Somerset House’s Summer Series. It really is a pretty spectacular setting, and the mood is good - relaxed, mildly boozy - overall a very pleasant way to spend a July evening. Westminster is visible along the river, but the political mess is seemingly far from the minds of the revellers simply here to enjoy a lazy hazy night of very decent entertainment.
Bill Ryder-Jones opens the evening. Former Coral member and child prodigy and just thirteen years old when he began a music career that’s seen some impressive positions undertaken, none less so than fulfilling touring guitar duties for the Arctic Monkeys. With a solo career consistently in tow right back from the Coral days, his most recent album West Kirby County Primary was released and toured in late 2015.
Tonight he’s supplementing the relaxed vibes, dressed at the smarter end of the Cobain spectrum (the kind of outfit you throw on to answer the door to the postman at 9am on a Saturday) leading the five piece band casually but confidently through a swathe of familiar sounding melancholic and melodic indie rock. The influences of his better known peers are clear, and well received. Chord progressions and riffs are reminiscent of all your favourite 90s britpop and noughties indie darlings with sweet sounding Fender Jags, strummed lazily and a quirky eccentric wooden synth, but nobody is quite sure what sound it is making? 'Wild Roses' is almost painfully Babyshambles, but who cares?
We’re all snapped out of the hazy blur and remember where we are when we’re told the set is to be cut short to keep in line with the strict American Express sponsored schedule. Ryder Jones humbly voices his admiration and appreciation for Courtney Barnett before ending on ‘Satellites’, a song with a swirly guitar crescendo reminiscent of 1980’s american alt-rock band, The Pixies.
We’re revelling in the last of the blue sky the evening has to offer, and there’s a pleasant and surprisingly chilled atmosphere within the courtyard of Somerset House as Courtney Barnett and her streamlined band of three don the stage. Barnett is instantly endearing, engaging, witty and bold. Her capability as a guitarist is evident as she seemingly effortlessly thrashes out bluesy riffs and pretty melodies simultaneously. The mood is perfect and from the first song ('Dead Fox') the crowd is hanging on her every word.
She has famously said ‘I don’t really like talking about myself’ and this is confirmed as she moves swiftly into her next four songs without a hint of conversation between them. She however conveys more than enough wit through her relatable and sometimes vulnerable lyrics. She breaks this trend after after the magnificent, ‘Small Poppies’, following the climatic guitar shreds with "London hows it going?"
The set continues with wailing, droning guitars, reinforced by an entirely solid backing of steadily rolling drums and hairy, howling bass. But it’s in those moments between the noise where the sheer understated genius of Barnett’s masterful poetry comes through. Big goofy animations behind the stage are amusing and compliment the lyrical quirkiness perfectly. A cheeky quip about Preston leads us into perhaps the most beautifully calm part of the night, and Barnett is able to leave the crowd to drone out the melancholic croon of 'Depreston'. Perhaps Barnett’s most well-loved song. The entire crowd seem to relate and the perfectly familiar British struggle to buy a house, "If you've got a spare half a million, you could knock it down and start rebuilding."
As the sun sets Courtney remarks on the pink light that now swathes the walls of Somerset House - little did she know nobody else noticed, too transfixed on her. She also suggests that the Queen should be in attendance. A reference to the beauty of the classic architecture perhaps? It is with that air of unassuming grace but undeniable swagger that the set comes to a final crescendo with 'Nobody Really Cares If You Don't Go To The Party’ - a song fit to rock a stadium-sized venue.
The intended swirly mess of distortion leaves the audience in awe as her band members depart, leaving Courtney alone shaking the final juice of noise from her guitar.
By Zoe Mead.