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COURTNEY BARNETT & KURT VILE with Jen Cloher

Oct 29, 2017

Jen Cloher

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Jen Cloher opened with only her voice and a solo guitar, in a surprisingly intimate set for a venue so large. She has a way of speaking that makes you instantly like her: straightforward and honest. Something about her easy wit and the open vulnerability of her lyrics makes her feel familiar, in an almost spiritual sense. She did a great job of harnessing a large crowd’s anticipation and morphing it into new interest.

Some background on Cloher: like Barnett, she’s a musician from Melbourne; like Barnett, she’s in love. With Courtney, actually--they’re partners and it’s very sweet. A lot of Cloher’s lyrics center around their relationship, exploring themes of distance and affection, fame and envy, and the balance between love for another and love for oneself. But where Barnett’s music is yellow, Cloher’s is more of an inky blue: tough and tense at some points, strikingly gentle at others. It manifests beautifully in a stripped-down set; the guitars still growl, but her voice finds new space to grow and her lyrics emerge more vividly than ever. Most of the material she played was from her latest release, Jen Cloher, which came out in early August.    

The highlight of her set arrived near the end, in the form of a charming childhood anecdote: as the story goes, Cloher used to disguise herself as a boy named John in order to play Galactica at her hometown’s local arcade. (Where she CRUSHED it, apparently--her name was at the top of the “high scores” list for weeks, until her mom caught word of the whole ruse and dragged her home for good.) From this tale, Cloher transitioned smoothly into her final song, “Strong Woman,” ending on a note as high as one can have in a set without any real lows. It takes strength to play on stage alone in front of a full theater; it takes strength to craft your own poignant work while still supporting your partner’s. Cloher clearly accomplishes both: her songs breathe and kick, masterful in their own right, and it was an awesome way to start out an awesome evening.  

Kurt Vile & Courtney Barnett

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What do you say when two of indie rock’s brightest stars collide? Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett don’t seem like the ideal pair until you stop to think about it, and then it becomes almost obvious. Sharing mutual friends, interests and inspiration, the two were probably destined to collaborate--they even dress alike, showing up to the Palace in matching flannels. (Not a joke: it was a little difficult to tell them apart before they started singing.) Their music feels natural, like sitting in the sun: familiar in the sense that it pulls from both of their strengths but new in how it pushes those strengths together. Where their lyrics are intricate, the guitars ramble, while quieter points adopt a heavier, bluesier sound. The harmonies are pleasant. Barnett and Vile mesh really well, and it all seems to stem from a mutual appreciation of each other’s work, which is pretty neat to see live.  

Their collaborative record, Lotta Sea Lice, is fairly short, being only 9 songs long. They played the entire album in order, with the exception of “Peepin’ Tom” (which I was actually a little sad about, since that one’s my favorite, but it’s fine). This left plenty of room for covers and some solo work. Barnett bounced through “Dead Fox” and an amped-up take on Gillian Welch’s “Elvis Presley Blues,” while Vile mostly stuck to material from his latest solo release, b’lieve i’m goin down. They saved their biggest hits for last, though, closing the encore with Vile’s “Pretty Pimpin’” and Barnett’s “Avant Gardener.”

In between songs, the two didn’t say much. The whole band “made the mistake” of eating dinner at a restaurant just outside the venue, bumping into many admiring fans as a result, and Vile joked that they’d remember to pick somewhere more private next time. But apart from that, a shoutout to Bob Dylan and a charming exchange about “Depreston” being Vile’s favorite song, the banter was pretty light--and maybe that’s fitting. In a friendship born from music, the focus should be on the music. That’s why they started collaborating in the first place. It’s easy to tell that the two really enjoy each other’s sound, and that down-to-earth enthusiasm carries over when they’re playing together.      

All said and done, it was an impressive performance from an impressive duo, well worth waiting for. A+.

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Written By Sydney Lemens
Photos by Sylvia Jennings