The Aussie-accented, country-tinged tones of Courtney Barnett’s songs have been floating over the Radio 6 music airwaves of late.

Last Thursday was her second London appearance, this time at Ace Hotel, Shoreditch. Courtney takes keeps things minimal, walking on stage to plug all the leads in before she’s joined by her bass player and drummer. With no introduction, the band gets right down to the first number.

courtney barnett sings

It is immediately clear that the smoothed-out recorded versions of her songs that I’ve heard so far pale in comparison to Courtney live. This is stripped back, grungy rock with a country, folky edge, those trademark stream of consciousness lyrics carrying the songs along – paens to suburban Melbourne life, agonies of love, but all retold with an edge of humour. Angsty, textspeak poetry tells the stories of her life so far. And she’s a mesmerising performer in her low-key tomboy style: torn shirt, messy layered hair, no makeup, eyes closed, keeping a distance from her audience who stand mere inches away.

Courtney leaves any form of conversation till half way through the gig when she introduces new song Depreston. Do you have a ‘Preston’ here in England too? she ask. Yes we reply, before answering an amused ‘no’ to whether it is a place we’d like to hang out.

The short set ends with History Eraser from her EP How to Carve a Carrot into a Rose. New double EP out now is A Sea of Split Peas from which comes her most talked-about number, Avant Gardener. Canned Tomatoes (whole) is my particular favourite: a deceptive, fluid country ballad which lulls you before breaking into psychedelic mode. The song is also on 6-track album I’ve Got a Friend called Emily Ferris.

Courtney is touring the UK at venues here and there through May, book now, here’s a link

setlist
Ace Hotel, Shoreditch.

Ace HotelOur evening was supposed to commence with a drink in the hotel’s main bar, but my friends got lost. Actually, they had walked straight past the hotel. That library or, er…. bicycle repair shop – yup – it’s actually the hotel.

I returned on Sunday to check it out, and loved the vibe of the inviting, coolly-designed, multi-functional lobby, with plenty of areas for relaxing, reading newspapers, or working on laptops (this was originally supposed to be a reasonably-priced hotel for creatives before the area shot up in value). A coffee shop at the front does small snacks, and at the rear is the main bar.

Ace coffee

Just to the left of the main entrance, you find the separate door leading down to the music venue. It’s a really pleasant space, as big and airy as you can get for a basement venue, with sofas and low tables arranged around the edges. The bar is in the process of setting up to serve draught beers but for now it’s bottles only, we drank Camden Hell. Courtney’s gig was a sell-out (the venue takes a maximum of 235 people) yet the space never felt crowded. This is a fairly intimate venue and you can stand pretty close to the bands on the low stage. Ace Hotel has definitely found a place high on my “small venue” list.

Ace Hotel, 100 Shoreditch High Street, London E1.

THE SMALL PRINT

WHO: Courtney Barnett plus support
WHEN: Feb 13, 2014
WHERE: Ace Hotel, Shoreditch, London
TICKETS: £11 approx

What do you think?