Review: Courtney Barnett Plays an Intimate Show at The Atlantis

On October 15th, Australian singer-songwriter Courtney Barnett took to Washington D.C.’s newest yet simultaneously historic music venue: The Atlantis. Barnett, known for her laid-back delivery, witty lyricism, and conversational approach to music-making, delivered all that and a bag of chips at her intimate Sunday performance. In the first half of her set, Barnett was joined by multi-instrumentalist and fellow Aussie Stella Mozgawa to perform Barnett’s latest album, End of the Day. In the second half, Barnett went solo, performing stripped down selections from across her discography.

The concert began with what we can only think to describe as a soundbath. The live rendition of End of the Day, an instrumental album composed of collaborative improvisation between Barnett on guitar and Mozgawa on synthesizer, was undoubtedly more dynamic than the studio recording. At the onset, it was difficult to give in and enjoy the sometimes abrasive sounds that rang either too loud to appreciate or too quiet to understand, but as the set went on we found ourselves falling into the waves of sound. The combination of synthesizer and guitar created a hypnotizing drone that conveyed emotional swells while also leaving much up to the interpretation of the audience. Knowing that the album was originally composed as part of the score to the documentary Anonymous Club, which follows the somewhat reclusive Barnett as she embarks on her world tour, we couldn’t help but hear the cinematic tendencies in the music. A favorite part of the set was seeing the undeniable creative connection between Mozgawa and Barnett. The two artists worked harmoniously together to create a never-lapsing story of sound that continued to evolve as it went on. The entire set served as a lovely and unexpected contrast to Barnett’s more traditional work as a singer-songwriter.

The second half of Barnett’s performance was a solo endeavor where she provided the audience with a brief overview of what can only be described as her greatest hits. She moved from her first release to newer tracks, singing bangers like “Avant Gardener” and including “Before You Gotta Go” from her 2021 album. The only omitted release seemed to be her collaboration with Kurt Vile, who sadly made no guest appearance to our great disappointment. She performed nearly stripped-down versions of her songs, which led to the tracks somewhat blending into each other with this overall acoustic sound. Barnett regularly interacted with the audience. Introducing each track, she came across as very down to earth and welcoming. The crowd, while engaged and energetic, seemed quite reluctant to sing along to begin with, perhaps prioritizing appreciation, but after some encouragement from Barnett, the audience was soon involved. Although it was a shorter performance, as it was the second half of the entire show, she was able to cram in a great array of her work.

The audience’s intuition to stick to quiet appreciation fit perfectly with the atmosphere of the venue. The intimate setting of The Atlantis, while a newly unveiled space, is intended to be a replica of the original 9:30 Club. It recreates the smaller crowd, with a capacity of 450, and imitates the “obstructing” poles (however, the poles are tucked around the edges quite nicely) as well as the mysterious floating photographers seat. This historic feel only ventured on gimmicky with the rooftop rendition of the original street. The actual room was great, perfectly suiting Barnett’s performance.

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