Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile. All photos by Maddy Fox for MPR.
When Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile are onstage together, their musical conversation parallels their friendship and working relationship. Much of last night at the Palace Theatre was about letting things evolve and finding the natural groove rather than forcing it. Perhaps that’s why Barnett and Vile fit so well together; they allow each other to grow and explore who they are as performers.
Opening the night with a solo guitar, Jen Cloher, from Melbourne like Barnett, delved into her past with her lyrics and a story about loving Jim Morrison as a young girl. Moving into “Sensory Memory,” Cloher said that the song was about her relationship with Barnett and how she passes the time while her partner is on the road. The song lays everything out like someone laying out their clothes for the week, matter-of-fact and thoughtful with a touch of wistfulness.
Barnett and Vile — maybe intentionally, maybe unintentionally — found affinity in their shared look: plaid shirts and luxurious hair. From afar, they were hard to tell apart until they opened their mouths. The set mainly comprised songs from their collaborative Lotta Sea Lice, an album born out of their mutual love of each other’s work. The tracks echo this love, and the entire album radiates with a palpable energy that could only come from musicians that are extremely excited to be performing together.
At times, their harmonies were so attuned, it was hard to separate the two voices, and at other times, such as during “Let It Go,” Barnett and Vile would trade vocals back and forth like basketball players running down a court.
With only nine songs on the album, Barnett and Vile made room to share some solo work along with some covers. As the last notes of Barnett’s “Depreston” were done ringing, Vile declared — more to Barnett than the audience — “That’s my favorite song,” before segueing into “Life Like This” a song from his own B’lieve I’m Going Down.
The band made the mistake of having dinner on a restaurant patio outside of the Palace Theatre and being recognised by most of the people headed to the show, Barnett said. “We met half of you at dinner down the road.” Vile retrospectively made a note to consider that before they did that again preshow. While banter was kept to a minimum, Vile gave a thanks to Bob Dylan, who was playing down the road at the Xcel Energy Center, before launching into “Blue Cheese.”
Musically, the duo’s styles complement and mix with each other perfectly. Their combined ability in crafting lyrics pairs well with the dense, bluesy sound that they’ve found together. It’s been said that good art should kick something loose and make you see things in a new light, while connecting you to something familiar. With “Dead Fox,” Barnett’s sing-talking delivery is reminiscent of early Sheryl Crow, carrying an edge and matter-of-factness — much like Cloher’s writing.
The duo’s cover of Belly’s “Untogether” found Barnett and Vile’s vocals closely intertwined again, belting out a sad love song about a relationship that was doomed from the beginning. Those that stuck around for the encore were treated to Barnett’s lilting cover of Gillian Welch’s “Elvis Presley Blues,” but the two saved their favorites for last with Vile’s “Pretty Pimpin” and Barnett’s “Avant Gardener.”
The collaboration was a long time coming, the wait for the Barnett/Vile album and performance was absolutely worth it. The evening had no false pretenses nor self-importance, reminding you that music, at its core, should make you feel what the performer is feeling.
Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett