Live Review: Courtney Barnett, Jep & Dep

29 January 2016 | 1:08 pm | Hannah Story

"She throws her head back to the sky during verses, before knuckling down over her guitar during outros and solos, headbanging along."

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Sydney is the best city. We're so lucky that in order to get to and from Twilight At Taronga's opening night across the Harbour at Taronga Zoo, we need to hop on a ferry past the Opera House and the Harbour Bridge. It's awe-inspiring — especially when, mid-Courtney Barnett's set, we can glimpse fireworks over the treetops, across the water. We head past the tree kangaroos (CUTE!) and the elephants to catch the dulcet tones of Jep & Dep. It's kind of bland, easy, acoustic guitar-led boy-girl folk, easing the crowded lawn into the evening, before it's arms in the air for a full venue selfie.

The vibe in the sold out venue is communal, a thousand people squeezed onto the lawn, sprawled on picnic rugs, eating cheeseburgers or picking at hampers. The crowd is subdued, laidback, entirely different to your regular Courtney Barnett show — there's no mosh tonight, only a few high-pitched screams (and the low shout: "Courtney for Hottest 100!"), not a lot of sweat flying. After opening with Depreston, she's playing "the fun stuff", starting with Pickles From The Jar, which gets the toddlers and the chardonnay mums on the lawn dancing. The lawn comes close to swallowing the sound at times (Barnett could use Dan Luscombe in outdoor venues like these to fill out the songs), but that doesn't seem like a problem to this crowd of throwaway Barnett fans ("Who's seen us before?... About ten of you!").

Darren Cross of Jep & Dep steps out to lend his harmonica to Barnett's new one, her ode to packet mi goreng Three Packs A Day, before the band drops Elevator Operator, Don't Apply Compression Gently and An Illustration Of Loneliness (Sleepless In NY). It's a set that picks from her first two EPs, I've Got A Friend Called Emily Ferris and How To Carve A Carrot Into A Rose, and her debut, last year's Sometimes I Sit And Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit, with singles like Dead Fox getting the loudest singalongs from the crowd. Barnett's vocals are almost gravelly tonight (is she coming down with something?), but that kind of roughshod, almost growl during certain choruses, such as that on Out Of The Woodwork, lends them a weathered edge, a fierceness. She throws her head back to the sky during verses, before knuckling down over her guitar during outros and solos, headbanging along — it's these moments where it seems like Barnett is having the best time, and she laps up the crowd's jubilation at the announcement that it's Avant Gardener up next.

The crowd front of stage swells, gaining a few more revelers with each note of Debbie Downer and the moody and sprawling set highlight Kim's Caravan. The latter has other people on their backs in the grass, gazing up at the gum trees, a contemplative moment before they're sitting up again for Nobody Really Cares If You Don't Go To The Party and the blistering Pedestrian At Best, which definitely packs more punch when Barnett huffs "YOU!" into the mic. They leave the stage to the sound of guitar feedback, before returning, teasing the crowd with the opening of Stairway To Heaven. Cheeky early song Lance Jr and the blustering History Eraser are our actual encore, a last chance for the crowd and Barnett to cut loose. Another demonstration of why Courtney Barnett is one of the best.

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