Courtney Barnett, who made her WOMADelaide debut on Saturday night, is national treasure. Playing a 90 minute feature set on the Foundation Stage, it was her first Australian gig in around three years (working hard in recent times to win over audiences in the US).
Listening to her recordings, it’s often the wry poetry of the singer-songwriter’s lyrics that stand out, but playing live as part of an accomplished four-piece, the experience is very much one of old school rock’n’roll. Barnett is an excellent guitarist, who lets loose on solos while prowling the stage, with a tight band that follow her through the nuances of her compositions.
The set was a varied one, mixing up highlights from Barnett’s career. While focusing on last year’s excellent record, Things Take Time, Take Time, there was material from all three solo albums, her duet with Kurt Vile and even an odd early release. In fact, one of the best moments was when Barnett obliged an audience request for an unrehearsed version of her breakthrough track, ‘Pickles from the Jar’. Although, only rendered in part, it prompted a stirring sing-along and she promised to polish it up for a full version for next time.
Barnett is a top-notch performer, not your typical rock persona, but with a genuine appeal that really connects with her audience. It was fantastic to have a main Saturday night set that delivered the simple delight of Australian rock’n’roll songwriting.
Earlier in the evening, Barnett also made an appearance on Stage 2, collaborating in the A.B. Original set for a brilliant performance of ‘Dumb Things’. It was just one of the highlights in a high quality set that saw the hop-hop due joined by a host of collaborators that also included other WOMADelaide alumni, Thelma Plum and Mo’Ju.
It’s a strange thing that A.B Original can be so enjoyable to watch, while also being so challenging – the pair repeatedly reminding us that, more that just a good time, this music should make us change how we think and what we do. It all culminated with an all-in performance of ‘January 26’ – the pair wishing for the day this song becomes redundant.
The dinner-time set on the Foundation Stage was provided by the energetic Melbourne Ska Orchestra, led by the charismatic Nicky Bomba (who has performed at WOMADelaide in a number of different ensembles over the years). A master of crowd participation, there was a great deal of call and response, and a whole lot of dancing. Set highlights included ‘Good Days, Bad Days’, ‘Lygon Street Meltdown’ and the theme from ‘Get Smart’. It was all great fun.
With so many high quality Australian acts on display at this year’s WOMADelaide, it is fantastic to see such confidence in the local product and have this appreciated by audiences on the big stages.
WOMADelaide continues today and tomorrow, with details available here.
Reviewed by Matthew Trainor
Pictures by Tessa Manning