Fresh from a European tour and coming off the back of his latest album ‘404’, Barns Courtney treated Rescue Rooms to a night of his now diverse musical catalogue in a whirlwind of smashing guitars and an abundance of sweat.
Reflecting on the change of direction which Courtney took with his recent record 404, my interest was peaked as to how he would tackle the new material in a live setting. Last time I had the pleasure of watching Courtney live was in the crammed, intimate space of The Maze – a venue which is regretfully no longer up and running. The Maze was the perfect venue for Courtney’s earlier work found within 2017’s The Attractions of Youth. A dark, slightly rough around the edges bar just out of central town was the quintessential set up for a night of bluesy, gritty rock. However, coming at music from a different head-space and angle, 2019’s 404 provided a much more upbeat, pop and dance inspired record. And so, a venue which could provide the intimacy suited to his earlier work while simultaneously allowing for a much larger production scale was required – step up Rescue Rooms.
Striking me again for the second time seeing Courtney perform was the variety in the audience turnout. There was no obvious common factor connecting those making up the crowd; they differed in ages, gender and backgrounds, but were unified over a love of music.
Kicking the night off with a punch was Fun Never Ends, one of the more energetic tracks on 404. Courtney wasted no time engaging with the sea of fans by prancing about the stage in his typical manner, getting claps, chants and a relationship with the audience going instantly. Following on was London Girls, a song designed to be experienced with a crowd. Never bringing the pace down for even one second, Barns Courtney hit the ground running with two of his newer tracks. He undoubtedly proved that although differing in tone, within a live setting his latest music still retains the passion, spirit and fire which fans have come to love and expect.
'Nothing about Courtney is subtle – not his music, not his metallic blazer paired with a ripped open shirt, and certainly not his approach to entertaining a crowd'.
Everyone erupting in cheers and claps as the familiar chords and steady drum beat of Hands kicked in; for me, this is where both Courtney and the crowd found their footing as he cemented for certainty that the old can blend with the new, one fist bump, mic swing and head bang at a time. Despite the merging of the two records, you couldn’t help but feel an overall preference from fans towards the older material. Perhaps this is due to pure nostalgia and familiarity, or maybe a rock track with limited post production lends itself better to a live set up. Personal musical preference may come into play here, however I always find it underwhelming to watch an artist utilize pre-recorded backing live on stage. This was the case with many of the newer tracks, notably Hollow and You & I, which were both being heavily produced to create that electronic sound. In taking such different slants on the two albums, Courtney appears to have dug a small hole, whereby unless fans connect with both directions equally, it is going to be difficult to wholly entertain everyone.
Nothing about Courtney is subtle – not his music, not his metallic blazer paired with a ripped open shirt, and certainly not his approach to entertaining a crowd. Above all else, Barns Courtney is a showman through and through. Even tracks such as Little Boy – a slower, gentler and more delicate song than most of his repertoire – was performed with infectious gusto. Thriving off the crowd, feeding off their energy, you can’t help but be caught up in Courtney’s world of smashing guitars and sweaty bodies. He takes you to a world where showmanship in music is not dead, in a reality which sees too much of bands being afraid to put themselves in danger of appearing ‘uncool’ by trying too hard.
'He undoubtedly proved that although differing in tone, within a live setting his latest music still retains the passion, spirit and fire which fans have come to love and expect'.
Using all the oldest tricks in the book – sitting down on stage to become level with the audience, climbing down into the crowd and notably the classic crowd surf during Kicks – Courtney does everything within his power to ensure that not only the audience, but also himself, have a memorable night.