Local Current Blog

Review and photos: Courtney Barnett leads a powerhouse female lineup at Surly Brewing Festival Field

Courtney Barnett. (Photos by Maddy Fox for MPR)

The Twin Cities love Australian rocker Courtney Barnett. This affection was only further proved by the swarm of adoring fans who showed up to Surly Brewing Festival Field for her headlining show yesterday evening. Barnett, as well as her opening acts, were fresh from the Pitchfork Music Festival (Barnett also stopped by The Current to record a session while she was in town.) and followed a fabulous show by Sylvan Esso the night before. The audience at Barnett’s show was treated to significantly better weather — there were barely any clouds in the sky as Lucy Dacus, one of two opening acts, took to the stage promptly at 6:00.

“I guess we’ll just start playing some songs!” Dacus exclaimed moments after walking onstage. With that, the 23-year-old jumped into the first song of her set: “Addictions.” The musician, who hails from Richmond, Virginia, brought the perfect mood to start out the evening, playing mostly songs off her newest album Historian. As Dacus and her band performed, much of the audience was still seated on the Festival Field grass, bobbing their heads along. As her set continued, more people began to stand and some even participated in a steady sway, showing appreciation for her distinct voice.

“I feel like we should acknowledge that we’re not Big Thief,” Dacus said, referring to the fact that the Brooklyn band were originally scheduled for her slot in the lineup. The audience didn’t seem to mind, though. By the time she jumped into “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore,” the crowd was under her spell and her velvety voice was covering the entire field.

At 7:00 p.m. Julien Baker floated onstage and greeted the audience with her quiet speaking voice. The moment she transitioned into the opening song of her commanding set, “Funeral Pyre,” it became apparent that she wasn’t planning on staying quiet for long.

Baker’s most recent album is 2017’s Turn Out The Lights, and she played many songs from it throughout her setlist.  Towards the end of her performance, she stopped to comment on how grateful she was to be performing on the same stage as women that she deeply respects and looks up to. As she said this, a resounding roar of approval came from the audience.

“That was cool,” Baker remarked. “I said the word ‘women’ and everyone cheered.” This would become a theme for the evening: a powerful lineup of female musicians on a beautiful July night.

By the time 8:15 p.m. rolled around, Courtney Barnett wasn’t a minute late getting into position. Sporting a black t-shirt and her signature shaggy hairstyle, she started out the set with “Hopefulnessness” from Tell Me How You Really Feel, which was released back in May. Seconds into the performance, and to no surprise the audience was already in love. People danced, sang and even did some crowd surfing as Barnett smoothly transitioned from one song to the next, barely pausing to catch her breath.

Watching Barnett perform with her band is pure fun. The connection that they share makes it feel more like a jam session in a friend’s garage rather than a choreographed performance. They rocked with one another through songs including “Need A Little Time,” “City Looks Pretty,” and “Nameless, Faceless.” Barnett also threw in a few songs from some of her older releases, like “Avant Gardener” and “Depreston.”

“Thanks for sharing my favorite part of the day with me,” Barnett said to the audience in reference to the sunset, which settled in a golden hue over the field. Later in her set, she would point to the moon and ask the audience to “Take a second to look at it, it’s so beautiful.”

In addition to taking in her surroundings, Barnett was also getting lost in her music. She switched from her heavier rock songs to her softer tunes with ease, never letting her voice falter. Barnett sounds just as crisp live as she does in all of her studio recordings, even as it reverberated around Surly’s massive Minneapolis compound.

Barnett’s encore came in the form of two songs: the much slower, sway-worthy “Annonymous Club” followed by “Pedestrian At Best,” which gave the audience one last chance to completely rock out before the night was over. As the lights went out on Barnett’s Surly performance, fans walked away from a night of powerful female musicians who not only know how to perform but know how to dominate.

Lucy Dacus

Julien Baker

Courtney Barnett