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'Avant Gardener' hitmaker Barnett doesn't blossom at Varsity

Posted by: Jon Bream under Music Updated: June 25, 2014 - 2:20 AM

Aussie newcomer Courtney Barnett has appeared on “The Tonight Show.”  Her music has been all over 89.3 the Current for months. And her Twin Cities debut at the Varsity Theater has been sold out for weeks.

Barnett, 26, seemed overwhelmed by the turnout on Tuesday, saying she hadn’t played for this many people in her hometown of Melbourne. But, frankly, her live performance  – all 63 minutes including the encore – was underwhelming.

Her rudimentary music lacked range and depth, her guitar work was largely one-dimensional, her singing not particularly emotional. And her sporadically energetic shoe-gazing stage presence  --she came across as the introverted daughter of Chrissie Hynde and Lucinda Williams with Zooey Deschanel’s hairdo -- was hardly compelling.  

Her drummer was in the pocket and the bassist solid. But the music was strikingly simple, with the first couple of selections suggesting Paul Revere & the Raiders. The fourth number, “Scotty Says,” had a nice twangy strut and snakey guitar work.  “Are You Looking After Yourself” exhibited a savvy sense of dynamics, alternating soft, stoner verses with harder, faster, slacker choruses.

“Blah,” a new number that Barnett described as a happy song after three sad ones, echoed the British garage-rock sound of Them., Van Morrison’s old band.  Barnett’s vocals were more nuanced on “Avant Gardener,” her radio hit with its quirky and appealing lyrics.

“History Eraser” had more bite vocally and musically than any other piece.  The night’s most intriguing selection may have been the solo encore, done with a softly strummed electric guitar, “Depreston,” about her depressing search to buy a new house.

Barnett showed some potential but it may be a while longer before the “Avant Gardener” singer truly blossoms. 

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