Have you ever gotten together with your friends and thought to yourself, Hey why don’t we all quit our jobs and start something—anything—together? After a certain age we self-select our friendships and most likely end up hanging out with like-minded individuals with similar interests and passions. The thought of turning those connections into a career are intoxicating but eventually fall to the wayside due to the vagaries of life.
Well, Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile scoff at your general laziness and inertia. The duo teamed up this year to record the lovely and perfect collaboration Lotta Sea Lice. The album is an impeccable blend of their particular strain of indie/folk rock. Barnett’s trademark lyricism mixes well with Vile’s looping, hazy style. The two are in such lockstep that it would have been a surprise if they didn’t end up working together. Throw in an all-star backing band that includes Janet Weiss (!) and you’ve got a hell of a recipe.
Barnett and Vile stopped by the Orpheum on Saturday to hang out, play some tunes, and generally just have a good time. Sparse stage decorations, the Orpheum’s lack of air conditioning, and the prodigious amounts of flannel both on stage and in the crowd made the show feel like everyone was stopping by their uber-talented friends’ garage rehearsal.
The band wasted no time and launched right into the stand-out single “Over Everything.” Barnett and Vile quickly proved their chops. It was evident to see why they chose to tour together. The song sounded as good as it does on the record with both performers easily handing off verses and guitar parts. The backing band with Katie Harkin on the keys and Stella Mozgawa on drums (Weiss had finished touring with the band by the Boston date) were tight and provided an extra edge to the sometimes languid atmosphere.
While the attraction of the night was the chance to see two charismatic musicians share the stage, Courtney Barnett stole the spotlight. Lotta Sea Lice hems more towards Vile’s musical sensibilities than Barnett, but at the Orpheum it was clearly the Courtney Barnett show featuring Kurt Vile. And that’s not so say she shoved him to the side; Vile was more than happy to concede the spotlight to Barnett. Vile had a curtain of hair in his face most of the night and intermittently engaged in some light banter. But nothing got the crowd going like Barnett shredding or the band launching into one of her songs.
Owing to the recency of Lotta Sea Lice’s release and the sheer popularity of Barnett and Vile’s solo work, the biggest pops of the night came from hits like “Depreston,” “Pretty Pimpin’,” and set-closer “Avant Gardener.” There were noticeable sing-alongs in the crowd during those songs and the energy in the room picked up. The evening was easy, relaxed, and charming. There were no egos, no fighting for attention, and all of the focus was on the music.
Not every concert has to be a life-affirming or changing experience. There’s something to be said about seeing a group of talented musicians get together and have fun. Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile clearly like each other and enjoy working together. Their show at the Orpheum proved that sometimes it’s ok to chase your dreams and work with your friends.