It is not often that you can go to a show where the audience is hearing mostly new music and does not get restless. Usually a longing for familiarity kicks in at some point. The concert at Philadelphia’s Union Transfer on Wednesday night was not your typical show. Courtney Barnett mesmerized a sold-out crowd that hung on every word and chord for an hour and a half.
Barnett’s new album, Tell Me How You Really Feel, was set to come out two days after the concert. The Australian singer-songwriter had only released four singles from the record, but that did not stop her from playing the new album in its entirety.
Instead of yearning for something more familiar, the Union Transfer audience was captivated by the material. One of the best songwriters in the world was providing a live first-listen of her new record.
The first ten of Barnett’s eighteen songs came from Tell Me How You Really Feel. Listening to the entire album live for the first time was a unique opportunity to appreciate her brilliant songwriting all over again.
The new LP is a continuation of the 30-year-old musician’s previous work. She is so great at applying a minimalist approach to her lyrics and music that it was easy to catch on to new work. Whether it was through quieter songs like “Hopefulness” and “Sunday Roast” or the more uptempo “Nameless, Faceless,” Barnett can channel her style in almost any way and it turns out to be gold. Even the feedback on her guitar at Union Transfer felt perfect.
After playing the LP, they launched into a run of her best-known work. The opening notes of “Avant Gardener” energized the crowd. As receptive as Barnett’s fans were to her new material, the musician already has an impressive number of instant classics that just had to be played.
Barnett closed out the first set with “Anonymous Club,” “Small Poppies,” “Elevator Operator,” and “History Eraser.”
Tell Me How You Really Feel is Barnett’s third record. Her last solo full-length album, came out in 2015. In 2017, she released Lotta Sea Lice, an album with Philadelphia-area songwriter and fellow indie superstar Kurt Vile. Fortunately for the crowd at Union Transfer, Barnett’s collaborative partner for Lotta Sea Lice dropped by for the encore.
The audience lost its collective mind when Vile popped on stage. He and the band played “Over Everything,” the lead single from Lotta Sea Lice and Barnett’s own “Depreston.” Barnett and her band finished with “Pedestrian At Best.”
Boston’s Palehound opened for Barnett. Lead singer Ellen Kempner remarked that it was the three-piece band’s first venue in awhile because they had recently played some college gigs. Kempner could not resist a casual mention of her city’s recent NBA triumph over the hometown Philadelphia 76ers as she talked to the audience between songs. Palehound plays a similar style of rock as Barnett, making them a natural pairing with the headliner.
Palehound’s second album, A Place I’ll Always Go, came out in June 2017.
Philadelphia was the sixth stop on Barnett’s North American tour. She had played a set at WXPN’s Non-Comm earlier on the same day. Barnett will return to Philadelphia on October 23 for a show with Waxahatchee at the Fillmore.
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