Montreal’s International Jazz Festival has come to an end. One of the most curious bookings this season has been indie rocker Courtney Barnett, who you would think would be better suited for something like Osheaga. I prefer to think it’s because it didn’t match her schedule and they wanted her here regardless of the festival. At any rate, it paid off nicely because whether she’s jazz or not, she and local openers Pottery put on a show that matched the city’s blistering humidity. The season may be still young but this night will be tough to beat.
In terms of sheer exuberance, Montreal’s Pottery gave the headliner a run for her money. Watching them was like watching a tape of a running, coked up gerbil on fast forward! Drummer Paul Jacob’s arms flexibly hammered away like loose spaghetti, as guitarists, Austin Boylan and Jacob Shepansky, bassist Tom Gould and keyboardist Peter Baylis, head-bobbed so quickly and rigidly that it looked like their heads were about to fall off. The audience didn’t know what to make of it at first and neither did I. My friend Jamie and I laughed out loud before realizing that yes, they are goofy, but they might also be brilliant. Pottery sounded like they were imported from New York City or Mars and very well could be a caffeinated response to indie darlings Parquet Courts. Any band that opens their set with several tempo changes before every uttering a word must be raising their freak flag high. As if this wasn’t flabbergasting enough, when forced to make banter with the audience, it appeared these local heroes are rather shy and not men of many words. That’s alright because their music was outgoing enough for them. By the end, a lot of the crowd were frantically headbobbing in support.
Courtney Barnett wasn’t going to let Pottery steal her thunder from down under though, not that she has ever shown any signs of pointless musical competitiveness. This was my third time seeing Barnett and I have never seen her this unhinged, loose and brimming with confidence. It was always apparent but I can finally confirm that she is indeed a motherfucking rockstar. We live in a world where such a thing holds very little value, which makes her all the more authentic. She seemed possessed by the moment and uncaring of any mistakes she might make. She let her rhythm section carry the songs, as she strummed freely, howled and screamed and when she felt like it busted out a face-melting guitar solo or two. Songs like “Small Poppies” and “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch” rocked far harder than their studio counterparts as they almost threatened to careen into oblivion. With every passionate wail of her voice, it genuinely felt that she was getting back at some son-of-a-bitch who dared wrong a songwriter of her wit.
As fantastic as Barnett was, props should also be given to her drummer Dave Mudie and bassist Bones Sloane. Without them, the whole thing might have fallen apart. They gave her the weight to ensure that she could be as raw and unbridled as possible. Her latest album Tell Me How You Really Feel was a stylistic nosedive into her love of grunge, but I’d argue her live show is even more realized because of this trios onstage chemistry. As beautifully chaotic as it all was, Barnett has a down-to-earth approachability that makes it impossible for concert-goers to ever feel truly alienated. During the encore, she happily obliged to take an audience member’s request to play deep cut “Ode to Odetta,” even though the band had clearly not rehearsed it. Lots of performers say that they love the crowd and don’t mean it. No one could say that of Courtney Barnett.
The rest of the 4-song encore, I’m sad to say, slightly underwhelmed in comparison to the main set. It was nice to have Barnett come out with just a guitar, but “Let It Go” was severely missing percussion and the back and forth chemistry between her and Kurt Vile. It was the only time I saw people standing and clapping politely. “Sunday Roast” fared well but I still couldn’t help but feel another banger would have fit the mood better. “History Eraser” on the other hand, ended things explosively. As her guitar rang out, while she gave fans setlists, it was obvious that she didn’t want to leave and no one wanted her to. So no, Courtney Barnett may not be jazz, but with the talent she has, she should be allowed to play in any festival she wants. I hope she brings Pottery along with her.
Written by Shawn Thicke
Photography by Marc-Antoine Morin
*edited by Danielle Kenedy