Courtney Barnett @ Forum Theatre

A Friday night show at the beautiful Forum Theatre, featuring one of our finest Australian singers-songwriters. I missed that faux night sky and the Greco-Roman sculptures!

I’m not sure why it took me so long to catch Courtney Barnett live when I’ve been a huge fan of her unique take on indie rock ever since her debut album. Technically, I did get to see her onstage when she made a brief guest appearance during The Breeders gig back in 2018, yet somehow I managed to miss out on every one of her tours, until now.

This latest batch of concerts feels very much like rediscovering Melbourne’s live venues after the Big Sleep of the pandemic, and I count Forum Theatre as one of my favourites – perhaps the favourite. It occupies the middle ground between the formal splendour of a traditional theatre, and a more raw and informal live venue where you can really let go in a general admission. I am still a tad miffed that they had removed all the seating other than the booths, but at least I was never going to hang at the back for this particular show.

I arrived pretty late and realised, to my annoyance, that I left my carefully prepared bottle of water in the car, so I joined a long bar queue shortly before the main event was due to start. One tiny overpriced bottle of water later, I made it as close to the stage as possible without getting rude and pushy, trying to steer clear of tall dudes and overly chatty couples. I had a few minutes to admire the ornate interior of the Forum and think back to the many fantastic past gigs, before the lights went down.

Courtney Barnett’s well-documented shyness means that her erudite, articulate lyrics, with their delightful wordplay and beautifully observed mundane details, don’t necessarily translate into a comfortable, witty stage banter. It took about half an hour for her to finally say a halting hello to the adoring, predominantly young and hipster-ish crowd. Her modesty and anti-rock star demeanour are a part of her appeal, though, and she was a likeable performer to watch, in her understated jeans and T-shirt, tossing her tousled hair around during the rockout moments and flashing smiles at her bandmates. She looks much younger than her 34 years, and still has something of an awkward adolescent about her.

The set was naturally dominated by the songs from Barnett’s third album, with surprisingly few cuts from the 2018’s Tell Me How You Really Feel. As much as I like Things Take Time, Take Time, it was good to have her older, punchier songs break up the more mellow vibe of her latest material. They also got the most enthusiastic response from the audience, who sang along to the old staples like Elevator Operator, Avant Gardener, Pedestrian At Best and my own personal favourite, the weirdly melancholy, Paul Kelly-esque Depreston.

Mobile phones and lighters came out during the encore’s pared-back Oh the Night, which was a lovely way to end the evening. Even though some of those lighters had me worried, it was kinda endearing to see this gesture done in an old-school way.

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