Wednesday night, hundreds of New Yorkers donned their finest raincoats and galoshes and headed to Webster Hall to see Courtney Barnett
and San Fermin
. It was a dark and stormy night, which was perfect for Webster since they're preparing for Webster Hell
, their epic annual Halloween bash, with spooky dry ice and scary-themed drinks to set the mood.
I caught the end of Mikhael Paskalev
's opening performance. It was a decent, mellow set with some pretty baller harmonica action. Still, the real draw of the night was last year's CMJ breakout Courtney Barnett, no contest.The crowd basically talked over Mikhael while they waited for the next act.
Soon enough, Courtney and her band (The Courtney Barnetts) took the stage to the manic applause and wild screams of hundreds of stoned and rain-soaked hipsters. (Sidenote about Webster Hall: This was literally the first show I've ever been to where no one checked my bag or patted me down, which is probably why the whole venue was more or less hot-boxed and everyone was so darned friendly.)
Courtney took the enthusiasm like a champ, bashfully approaching the mic with her lefty guitar in hand. The band played an amazing set, mostly covering material from The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas
, although I detected a new song or two in the mix. Even as a huge Courtney Barnett fan, I didn't realize how amazing her bandmates are until I saw them live. Lead guitarist Dan Luscombe (formerly of The Drones) has serious talent, and Courtney herself (on rhythm) had a cool, gritty tone that complimented her deadpan singing really well. She's one of those musicians who you can tell really loves playing - every time Dan Luscombe nailed a really badass guitar lick, she would throw her head back in enjoyment.
As for stage presence, I don't know whether to congratulate Courtney Barnett or Webster Hall for the supremely intimate and welcoming atmosphere of the show. In such a small venue, it's hard not to feel personally involved, especially among such a passionate crowd. Every so often, Courtney would glance up at the crowd with an I-Can't-Believe-I-Really-Get-To-Do-This smile, especially during "Avant Gardener" and "History Eraser," the two incontestable crowd favorites. Before getting off stage, she gave an awkward but genuine goodbye of, "I want to thank you all for being here... in this room... right now...."
In fact, it's a shame that baroque pop group San Fermin didn't play before Courtney. They weren't bad by any means, but their live band has too many members to count and the performance was a little showy for following the simple pysch-rock of Courtney Barnett. It served as a reminder that there's nothing wrong with a four-piece rock band. It also didn't help that the majority of the crowd was so clearly there for Courtney Barnett, and after she left they lost interest.
Even so, the San Fermin horns section was pretty amazing. There was just too much going on to distract from the music (also, it was damn near impossible to take a decent picture of them). Then, when I found myself near the merch stand, fans were lined up to buy Courtney Barnett shirts, while the sad San Fermin merch seller played 2041 on her phone. The main problem, obviously, was the lineup. Nonetheless, if you only see one CMJ performance this year, I hope you were there last night.