Courtney Barnett Rocks the House of Blues, 10/21

CB_PressPhotoI’ll be the first one to admit that I usually frequent tiny venues where concerts feel intimate and personal, but every so often a band comes along that befits a big room. Courtney Barnett is one of those artists. Her band’s massive sound packed the huge stage at the House of Blues on Sunday night, but the concert began in much smaller proportions. Waxahatchee started the show solo, accompanied only by her acoustic guitar. Although she was dwarfed by the towering speakers mounted far above her, Katie Crutchfield sounding poised and strong on songs from her recent EP under the Waxahatchee moniker, Great Thunder, and her fantastic record Out in the Storm. On songs like the standout “Chapel of Pines,” Barnett’s bandmate filled out the sound with electric guitar as Crutchfield belted her heart out.

Barnett’s headlining set started on a darkened stage, illuminated only by fairy lights strung across the drums and amps. After taking the stage to quirky introductory music, the cyclical, blaring bass and guitar riffs of “Hopefulessness” rang out into the rapt crowd. As the song chugged into high gear, Barnett showed off her slacker charm with her characteristic drawl and her guitar strapped as far down on her torso as humanly possible. “Hopefulessness” also literally set the stage for the songs to come with intensely colorful backdrops. The song began with a black stage with one lone red spotlight, mimicking the album cover for her latest record, Tell Me How You Really Feel. A number of large spotlights mounted on tripods on the stage then came to life in bright red, revealing a shiny, draped backdrop. The spotlights changed with the music as Bernett worked through her extensive set. “City Looks Pretty” at first sounded peppy with an uptempo, C86 feel that prompted some audience members to dance in the orange-gold and blue sheen of the lights, before slowing down to a meditative groove.

Barnett’s distinctive voice was in prime form as she chewed her words methodically on “Avant Gardener,” and she took time to deliver a rousing guitar solo on a raunchy rendition of “Nameless, Faceless.” Swathed in demonic red lights, Barnett got even louder on “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch,” which the actual moms standing next to me loudly agreed was their favorite song, and the absolutely ripping “Crippling Self-Doubt and a General Lack of Confidence.”

In the latter half of the concert, Barnett mixed it up, segueing from the jangle pop of “Debbie Downer” to the country-inflected shuffle of “Depreston,” and later on a stellar version of the recent album cut “Charity.” A few favorite moments came when Barnett stretched out for an extended guitar solo on “Walkin’ On Eggshells” before bringing out Katie Crutchfield for a rollicking cover of Elyse’s 1960s folk-rock classic “Houses.” Finally, Barnett made sure to save some of her power for the tail end of her encore when she performed the blistering hit “Pedestrian at Best” to the riled up crowd. For well over one and a half hours, Barnett riveted the House of Blues, ending (or starting) the week on a strong note for thousands of Bostonians who walked out into the blustery night knowing how she really felt.

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