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Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile bring living room intimacy to the Tower Theater

Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile|image by Natalie Piserchio for WXPN | From the moment it was initially announced, there’s been something tremendously appealing about this team-up. Kurt Vile, Philly’s simple home town guitar hero, and the wry Melburnian riffster Courtney Barnett are 2 of indie rock’s most precious, affable slackers, and the concept of the two of them palling around, bumming around and trading drawled vocals and casually sublime guitar licks was worth a bucket of grins. So it is with Lotta Sea Lice, the duo’s goofily-named, specifically low-stakes collective LP, out last month, which, if hardly advanced in any respect, is so abundantly pleasant. And so it was with their sold out Philly date last Friday night: simply a number of friends giving the type of amiably understated performance that can make a marvelous, storied place like the Tower Theater feel like a huge, comfortable living room.

Jen Cloher|image by Natalie Piserchio for WXPN | To make it really a household affair, Barnett’s wife, fellow Aussie songwriter Jen Cloher (who called her “my partner”) opened the program with an extremely personably acoustic set. As she had at her Free at Noon appearance previously that day, Cloher interspersed her earnestly plainspoken, lived-in tunes with similarly honest personal stories, including some uproarious anecdotes from her youth. But the sweetest and, especially in context, the majority of affecting part of her set came with tunes from her brand-new, self-titled album– significantly “Sensory Memory”– about missing Barnett when she was away on trip. While her existing experience of playing theaters throughout the nation, opening for her sweetheart, certainly makes for, as she quipped, “a great method start to her touring life in the United States”, Cloher’ll be going back to play Johnny Brenda’s at the end January with a full band (consisting of Barnett), assuring to let loose some of the rockier influences (Patti Smith, the Pixies, Bowie) referenced in her stories and songs.

Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile|picture by Natalie Piserchio for WXPN | When it comes to the main occasion: Aesthetically speaking, Barnett and Vile make an enjoyably well-matched set onstage. Kurt’s got (even) longer, shaggier hair, while Courtney had on a spiffier flannel. Surprisingly, Vile was the more talkative of the 2, not so much playing hometown host (it took him until halfway through the set to point out “feels good to play Philly … I’m from here”) as indulging his familiar practice of slinging quick little mumbles and yelps from behind his spiraling locks. In a tight set that took in practically all of Sea Louse‘s brand-new originals, obtained tunes (one by Cloher, and an achingly pretty handle Stomach’s “Untogether”) and revamped “self-covers” (but not, unfortunately, Barnett’s take on Vile’s dazzling “Peeping Tomboy”), plus a little smattering of individual catalog favorites and deep cuts, Vile provided a little context for his tunes (on the lively “Blue Cheese”: “I wrote this as a teen in Lansdowne”; on Smoke Ring for my Halo throwback “On Tour”: “a tune about waking up next to your bandmate, smelling him, and believing …’this is the life!'”) and some wholehearted appreciation for Barnett’s (on “Depreston”: “that’s my favorite song!”)

Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile|image by Natalie Piserchio for WXPN| As with the album, the performance was a lot more a case of Repellent illustration Barnett into his aesthetic orbit than vice versa (not that the two are worlds apart to begin with)– which is to say they stuck to a relatively consistent mode of laid-back, rather hazy, frequently folk-tinged and stoner-y jams. There was little evidence of Barnett’s periodic punkier inclinations; even her power-pop hit “Dead Fox,” probably the night’s most positive moment, handled a more controlled cast than usual. While it wasn’t the most dynamic or high-energy set it was certainly well-paced, regularly gorgeous and musically abundant, with some great tuned-in ensemble playing, most especially from drummer Stella Mozgawa of Warpaint, who was, honestly, probably the most captivating performer on stage.https://!.?.!It was likewise Courtney’s birthday on Friday: the big three-oh, no less. Early on in the night, Vile attempted rather adorably to direct a sidetracked Barnett’s attention toward some fans’birthday dreams, prior to reversing to the audience and shrugging:”I heard what they stated … and it holds true … pleased birthday Courtney!”Later, throughout the repetition, Cloher and the band members drew out giant gold balloons defining”CB 30,”and we all sang to her with proper event(as she pretended to conceal her face behind her guitar.)Cue the celebratory confetti canons as the band launched into the night’s last number, and Barnett’s best song,”Avant Gardener.”It was an amusingly over-the-top lead-in to a low-key, jokey little shuffle about having an asthma attack, but it was that sort of night. And while she appeared reasonably happy to be entering her 4th years under such scenarios, Barnett’s biggest smiles(and finest intonation )of the night actually came a few songs previously, when it was simply her and Vile on stage, trading verses on Gillian Welch’s “Elvis Presley Blues.”Which was also my favorite part of the night. Since there’s not much that evokes the intimacy of a casual living-room jam session like singing your heart on a Welch/Rawlings tune.< a href= > “data-big=””/ >”data-big=””/ >”data-big=””/ >”data-big=””/ >”data-big=””/ >”data-big=””/ >”data-big=””/ >”data-big=””/ >”data-big=””/ >”data-big=””/ >”data-big=””/ >”data-big=””/ >”data-big=””/ >”data-big=””/ >”data-big=””/ >”data-big=””/ >”data-big=””/ >”data-big=””/ >”data-big=””/ >”data-big=””/ >”data-big=””/ > comments Categorized Under: