When like-minded musicians Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile crossed paths a handful of months ago, the prospect of collaborating their complementary languid and off-kilter styles seemed like a perfect match. So perfect, that despite the vast emptiness of the Pacific Ocean in their way, what started out as a maybe a seven single or perhaps an EP blossomed into a full-blown album over time. These sorts of conjoined efforts can often slip through the cracks of their respective discographies over time (when was the last time anyone pulled out Lulu for a listen?) but this one feels like it comes from an honest friendship. Smiles abounded as the band, filled out by their backing band Sea Lice (Warpaint’s Stella Mozgawa on drums, longtime Violator and local Bostonian Rob Laakso playing bass, and Katie Harkins on backing vocals and keyboards) took the stage and immediately the strengths of this partnership were on display with “Over Everything.”
Singing together or taking turns, the homespun rag-a-tag feeling filled the room with good vibes, as “Continental Breakfast” recounted the roots of the record’s creation, and “Blue Cheese” (not a Don McLean song as Vile introduced it) describes an unusual use for the dairy product, and includes a surprise name check of Tom Scharpling . As the record only has nine songs, a targeted selection into their respective songs was expected. The hits of “Pretty Pimpin'” and encore closer “Avant Gardener” hit all the right spots, while Vile’s guitar work in “Depreston” was a highlight, his Neil Young-esque tone also hitting high marks on a cover of Jen Cloher’s “Fear Is Like A Forest.” Inspired covers included the set closer of Belly’s “Untogether” which unfortunately didn’t yield a guest turn of Tanya Donnelly, and Gillian Welch’s “Elvis Presley Blues” kicked off the encore with only Barnett and Vile on stage, their guitars and voices the sole propellant of a wasted dream. As these sorts of efforts go, the conflicting schedules of both artists and geographical distances make a second record pretty unlikely, so the sold-out room took full advantage of this fleeting opportunity to see them together on stage, singing songs they created together.
Barnett’s fellow Aussie and wife Jen Cloher took the stage first, playing songs from her excellent new self-titled record. Sharing stories about Patti Smith and her teenage daydreams of Jim Morrison, the stripped down versions of her songs stood on their own. Flashes of Malkmus and Timony came through and I’d like to see her with a full band in the future.
Photos of both bands here: