Live Review: Courtney Barnett @ Odeon Theatre For MONA FOMA

18 February 2024 | 8:40 am | Mick Radojkovic

Despite a bustling bar queue that occasionally broke the hypnosis, it was a very special and intimate experience that is unlikely to be seen much more, if at all.

Courtney Barnett

Courtney Barnett (Credit: Pooneh Ghana)

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The beautiful setting of the historic Odeon Theatre in the centre of Hobart was a perfect venue for the showcase of beloved (once) local Courtney Barnett. In a showcase as part of the MONA FOMA festival, the scene was set for something a little bit different, in keeping with the many eclectic themes, displays and performances over the weeks of the festival.

And different it was, especially if you were expecting Barnett to just come out and play the hits. The first half of the performance was a rare and hypnotic rendition of the instrumental soundtrack, End Of The Day, that Barnett, along with Stella Mozgawa - formally a drummer for indie-rockers Warpaint - composed for the film Anonymous Club

The documentary focused on Courtney Barnett’s life, giving people a glimpse into her creative process and the inner workings of an artist who is not usually a fan of being in the spotlight. The enigmatic nature of the artist was reflected in the performance, with barely any interaction with the audience or even each other.

Barnett and Mozgawa focused on their instruments, the latter on a range of synths and keyboards, whilst a projector emitted images of Barnett walking through leafy mountainous terrain – first forwards and then backwards. Whilst there was little interaction between the two of them physically, their creations played perfectly off each other in a flow that felt seamless whilst still taking us on a journey on which we didn’t know (or even care) about the destination.

Ultimately, the show felt like a perfect opportunity to close your eyes and project your own imagery in your head. The immersion of the music, along with the intimacy of the performance, let our brains fire off their own receptors, sparking whatever thoughts or feelings you happened to have on a balmy Saturday night in Hobart seated in front of two incredibly talented artists.

It was a warm and transformative experience. The drone of the synths, the sparkling but occasionally eery overlay of guitar, and the improvisational nature of the music provided a completely unique experience. Not to mention when Barnett pulled out a bow to evoke a range of sounds from her trusted Fender that you weren’t expecting. Despite a few in the crowd feeling a little restless and a bustling bar queue that occasionally broke the hypnosis, it was a very special and intimate experience that is unlikely to be seen much more, if at all.

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After a hearty round of applause and a short break, Barnett returned to the stage solo – just her and her trusty guitar. “Thanks for being here!” she cheerfully declared, “We didn’t expect to do shows [together], but it was so great to be asked.” Looking around the theatre, she declared, “I’ve never been to this theatre, and it’s very nice!”

The singer was in a talkative and reflective mood throughout her solo performance, which included the opening track from her 2021 album, Things Take Time, Take Time, her debut 2014 double EP, Avant Gardener and favourites Depreston and Sunday Roast – in which a small portion of the crowd attempted the backing vocals, an act that Barnett clearly enjoyed. Barnett happily recalled her time living in Hobart “above the Men’s Club,” which the crowd announced is now a car park!

The excellent sound in the theatre allowed for every single word of the performance to be crystal clear and helped us feel connected to Barnett throughout the set. It is just as well, too, because the lyricism of the artist is something to be treasured, giving us her raw and often humorous take on modern life as witnessed through her lens. Her manner, her cheeky grins, her laconic banter – it all makes Courtney Barnett so likeable and prized in the Australian music scene, not to mention the complete command of her instrument, a delivery that feels purposeful and guitar licks that seem to dance from her fingers effortlessly. 

Her set wrapped all too quickly, rounded out by the last track, Oh The Night, from her most recent album. We departed the theatre at the very friendly time of 8.30 pm (Barnett having earlier mentioned how great the early time slot was) and felt a warmth and comfort in having seen one of the country’s great musicians in such a perfect place. 

It was truly a unique occasion.