Sydney Opera House is often seen as a place of grandeur and high art. But in recent years it has become known for showcasing rising contemporary stars from around the globe. Despite the Concert Hall being designed for seated shows, it’s not uncommon for audiences to stand and dance for the entire night. Unfortunately, for Courtney Barnett’s first show at the venue on Thursday night, the crowd was determined to uphold the Opera House’s polite and quiet image.
Barnett was a commanding presence on stage a stage adorned by fairy lights. She may have been surrounded by her band but all eyes were on the Sydney-born, Melbourne-adopted shredder. She tore through her set with skill and purpose, and it was a shame that the crowd couldn’t give her the response she deserved. It’s not that they weren’t enjoying it, though – there was a low whisper of singing throughout the night, and some people were bopping around in their seats. Barnett was aware of this, and made an effort to encourage audience enthusiasm. The set was littered with questions and witticisms; a mention of Barnett’s home suburb of Church Point received little response, but that didn’t bring her down. “I played here once for someone’s HSC,” she told the crowd. She was genuinely stoked to be playing such a revered venue, and it shone through in her performance.
A cover of Gillian Welch’s Everything is Free was a clear highlight of the set. Initially performed by Barnett on The Tonight Show after the release of Tell Me How You Really Feel, it was hard to believe she wasn’t singing one of her own songs. Welch’s original folk feel was replaced with a slightly heavier tone, and it perfectly slotted in with the rest of Barnett’s discography. Hits Depreston and Avant Gardener were well-polished, but the signature Barnett angst was still kicking, while Anonymous Club, a lesser-known early track, allowed Barnett to shrink the room and create an intense intimacy. She held the silent crowd in the palm of her hand, and told them exactly what she wanted to do with them. Closer Pedestrian At Best finally saw some of the audience standing up and moving about as Barnett shredded on stage. It was a fitting end that reminded us that this music is not made for sitting down; Barnett aims to provoke, and she does it well.
Given they were seeing one of Australia’s brightest young rock stars, it was fair to expect the crowd to be a little more energetic. But Barnett, ever the performer, put on a show more than worthy of the grandeur of the Opera House, and confirmed why she is one of our most promising musical exports.