Kurt Vile and Courtney Barnett
McFarlin Auditorium, Dallas
Friday, Nov. 10, 2017
Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile brought a solid 90-minute set of indie rock, shuffling folk and aw-shucks charm to a nearly sold-out McFarlin Auditorium on Friday night. Barnett and Vile are coming to the end of their fall tour in support of their first collaborative album, Lotta Sea Lice, and Friday they worked their way through most of the songs on the album, along with a few tracks from their independent catalogs.
Barnett and Vile both tend to let their music do the talking, and that was true Friday. The lack of audience interaction wasn't missed much, either, because they're two of the best guitar players around.
Barnett’s left-handed ax got a workout as she bobbed and weaved her way through searing leads and aggressive, rhythmic melodies. Vile, the more understated of the two, stayed more in the background, blasting out squawky riffs and meticulous notes with his head down and face obscured by his long hair.
The no-frills stage design — backlit and devoid of props — kept the audience focused on the music. McFarlin has a capacity of more than 2,300, but Vile, Barnett and their three-member backing band appeared as if they were attending a casual audition. The performance's minimalism was refreshing.
The harmonies and back-and-forth vocal leads translated nicely from the album to a live setting. Songs were performed as they are arranged on the albums. The long opener “Over Everything," propulsive “Fear Is Like the Forest" and achingly sweet “Continental Breakfast" were all stunning.
Barnett and Vile have obvious chemistry. Their guitars weave together with the effortlessness and gracefulness of bandmates who’ve played together for decades rather than months.
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They seamlessly transitioned into each other’s material. Vile put a bit of a revved-up spin on Barnett’s “Depreston” while Barnett returned the favor with aplomb, producing spirited takes on Vile’s “On Tour” and “Pretty Pimpin’.”
Backing band the Sea Lice, comprising bassist Rob Laakso, keyboardist Katie Harkin and drummer Stella Mozgawa, also deserves much praise. It rounded out the sound, most of the time by being precise, but also by showcasing enough force to remind listeners that this was a rock-and-roll show and not a quiet night of folk ballads. Mozgawa is best known as the drummer for Warpaint, and she's a force on her instrument, whether that means kicking things into orbit with frenzied beats or calmly keeping the time with understated brush strokes.
The shyness of both Vile and Barnett was evident. There were a lot of dueling “How ya doings?” filling in the spaces where song explanations or tour confessionals usually go. The crowd responded with some of its biggest cheers of the night when, after a roaring rendition of "On Script," Vile turned to Barnett and casually proclaimed, “Court, that song was kind of awesome!”
It was an earnest moment that showed Vile’s respect and admiration for Barnett, and also a little self-satisfaction. For all the pair's laid-back coolness and low-key delivery, Barnett and Vile's collaboration is a pretty awesome happening. It was satisfying to watch them break character, even for a moment, to acknowledge it.