Courtney Barnett brings solo tour to US

With songs like “Pedestrian at Best” and “Nameless Faceless,” Courtney Barnett can make quite a racket with her band.

The Australian musician is taking a different approach on her upcoming tour, performing solo in intimate theaters. After opening for Brandi Carlile this week at Nashville’s legendary Ryman Auditorium, the solo tour kicks off tonight in Delaware and includes sold-out shows Monday at Pittsburgh’s Carnegie Library Lecture Hall and Cleveland’s Gartner Auditorium at the Cleveland Museum of Art.

“I’ve never really done it around America,” Barnett said during a telephone interview from Melbourne. “I’ve toured so much the last few years with the band, which I loved, and had some amazing shows together. I just thought it would be a fun challenge to do something different, I guess, and play the songs in a slightly different way.”

On stage by herself with just a guitar is how Barnett, 32, started out. From ages 18 to 22, she said she took any opportunity available to get on stage, although those were bar gigs, not theaters.

She warmed up for the U.S. tour by playing four shows in Castlemaine, about an hour outside of Melbourne, in a room that held about 120 people. The shows were announced at the last minute through social media and sold out immediately, even attracting some fans who flew in from other countries for the gigs.

“I just think it’s such a different energy. The band energy is so physical. There’s a real power and energy playing with my band. The solo shows are so much more emotional and vulnerable. There’s a real kind of rawness. I don’t think I’m doing anything too fancy, just plugging in my guitar, real simple, almost to how I wrote them with a guitar in my room.

“I think I have moments of not feeling good enough, and there’s nothing to hide behind (solo). You’re really out there naked with your song idea and your story. It’s kind of a vulnerable position. There’s something quite incredible about seeing artists perform like that.”

Barnett’s latest release provides a glimpse of the direction solo shows might take. She recorded an “MTV Unplugged” episode in Melbourne that aired late last year in Australia. She has some musical accompaniment and special guests on the performance, but it pares down the arrangements of music from 2018’s “Tell Me How You Really Feel,” 2015’s “Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit” and 2013’s “The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas” as well as one new song.

The performance can be listened to now on YouTube and the streaming services. It will be released on vinyl and CD on Feb. 21.

“Going into that performance, we knew it was being recorded with the possibility of releasing it if you like it. It seemed like a nice capture. I can be a real perfectionist, and it’s not perfect, but I love it … It’s was a challenge, and it’s kind of nice to just hear the tenderness that’s there and how everyone came together.”

The solo dates may be her only U.S. tour in 2020. The plan this year is to focus on writing songs for the next album and “a few potential collaborations,” she said.

During the interview last week, Barnett said it felt a little strange to be leaving Australia while the continent was being ravaged by wildfires. Earlier this month, Barnett and fellow Australian artists Camp Cope and Alice Skye played two benefit shows that raised about $90,000 (Australian) to benefit the departments battling the blazes.

“It was really amazing to see how the music and art community comes together in a time like that. People are just so generous with their time and their skills. There was just something heartwarming about seeing that.”


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