Courtney Barnett Was the New Voice of Punk at Club Dada

Courtney Barnett, a master shredder as well as a gifted lyricist, in action at Dada
Courtney Barnett, a master shredder as well as a gifted lyricist, in action at Dada
Scott Mitchell

Courtney Barnett
With Chastity Belt and Darren Hanlon
Club Dada, Dallas
Saturday, June 6, 2015

When you’re getting ready for an artist as hyped as Courtney Barnett, it’s hard to know what to expect. Even if you’d seen her before, maybe at South By Southwest earlier this year, it’s hard to gauge how she would respond to being one of the buzziest buzz artists in the country, crowned months ago as an “indie darling.” It’s a tough expectation to live up to, but if Saturday night’s show at Club Dada is any indication, Barnett seems to have settled (even if reluctantly) into the role just fine.

Even though most of us had no clue who she was six years ago, Barnett played to a sold-out house at Dada on Saturday night. To squeeze in more people, the venue opted to play the show on their tiny corner patio stage, which may have been one of the best decisions of the night. The evening was balmy and a little sweaty, but that was more related to pent-up anticipation than the actual temperature. Everyone here was ready for Barnett to take the stage, if only to see if all those reviewers from Pitchfork and NPR and SPIN were right.

The Seattle-based Chastity Belt was a notably talented opener. Breezy and mild with occasional explosions of energy, their sun-drenched sound felt very appropriate on the first weekend of June. Over and over, the best word to describe their set was “exquisitely blase,” and only in the most complimentary way possible. It takes a certain talent to look so incredibly bored while also producing great music. If there were a soundtrack to this current generation of disaffected youth, it would involve plenty of Chastity Belt.

Courtney Barnett Was the New Voice of Punk at Club DadaEXPAND
Scott Mitchell

But it would be mostly dominated by Barnett. There are few artists who can manage to be so unassuming and compelling at the same time, and Barnett is among the best. After quietly taking the stage, she launched into the boppy, high-energy “Elevator Operator,” the lead-off track from Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit, just about everyone’s current front runner for the best record of 2015. In the first few seconds of that song, it was clear that Barnett is more than just a fly-by-night “buzz band.” She’s a goddamn punk rock hero.

In listening to Sometimes I Sit and Think, it’s sort of easy to assume that Barnett’s live sound would be quiet and contemplative. It is certainly contemplative, as tracks wax philosophical about everything from pesticides in produce to the state of the Great Barrier Reef. Lyrically, Barnett is most successful when she manages to turn the painfully mundane — pulling weeds, looking for an apartment — into biting critiques of consumerism, mental health and relationships.

In a cover of the Breeders “Cannonball,” Barnett solidified her place as a punk. If the epic growl on “Small Poppies” didn’t convince you, this high-energy tribute was more than enough. It takes a lot to play such an iconic track and make people entertain the notion that your version might be better. Throughout the rest of the set, Barnett took ample opportunities to shred on her guitar, as if to drive home the point that she is as equally talented a musician as she is a lyricist. If you just listened to the album, these nuances are not so apparent. In a time when so many musicians rely heavily on production and the acoustics of a sound booth, it’s immensely refreshing to see someone shred and sing so brilliantly when shoved into the small corner stage of an outdoor patio.

Chastity Belt helped open the night for Barnett
Chastity Belt helped open the night for Barnett
Scott Mitchell

Saturday night’s show was also a pointed message to those that believe that punk is still dead. If it were, Courtney Barnett has officially resurrected it, in sound, aesthetic and lyricism. So maybe that guy (Observer contributor H. Drew Blackburn for those of you keeping score) who yelled out “Courtney Barnett is Jesus” in the middle of the set wasn’t entirely wrong, even if Courtney herself did seem to think that it was a little weird. She may not be entirely accepting of her new role as the voice of sadgirls (and boys) everywhere, but that’s where we are.

It’s a rare sight, unfortunately, to see a bill so dominated by badass female artists, in Dallas or anywhere else. After a sleepy (by all accounts) set from folk singer Darren Hanlon, Chastity Belt and Courtney Barnett came to blow the hypothetical roof off of Club Dada, and succeeded. Nights like these are a convincing argument that there should be more of these shows, and that anyone telling you that it’s just hard to book good female acts is completely full of shit. 

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