LIVE RECAP: Courtney Barnett & Belle and Sebastian – Pabst Theater – 6/19/15

The hottest name in indie rock is without a doubt Courtney Barnett. Since the release of her latest LP, Sometimes I Sit and Think, Sometimes I Just Sit, the Melbourne, Australia-based singer is winning over new fans and keeping her old ones more than content. On Friday, Barnett opened for Belle & Sebastian, and nearly stole the show with her 30-minute set.

Rattling through songs from her new album, including “Dead Fox”, “Pedestrian at Best” and “Elevator Operator”, Courtney’s reception in Milwaukee was one of the best I’ve seen from a city that often shows a short attention span. The slowed-down song, “Depreston” had an extra amount of pep in a live setting, and Barnett’s voice sparkled in the historic theater. The crowd was overwhelmingly supportive of Barnett, and despite her set-closing “Avant Gardener” seeming to be cut a little short of its usual length, the response was positive as she and her bandmates left the stage. Courtney Barnett is doing her best to make 2015 her year, and after her performance at The Pabst on Friday, Milwaukee is hoping that she’ll be back (headlining) soon.

If it was any other band, they would’ve very likely been out-shined by Courtney Barnett that night. Luckily, Belle & Sebastian were not intimidated by the challenge ahead of them, and took the stage as charismatic as ever. Frontman Stuart Murdoch didn’t seem to be phased whatsoever, and delivered a knock-out performance, ripe with dancing, banter, and fan engagement.

The biggest challenge for bands like Belle & Sebastian, who are veteran musicians with ten-plus albums under their belt, is that this fan engagement can be a double-edged sword. Sure it’s fun, but where do you draw the line? Pulling fans onstage is effective and entertaining for anyone involved, but it can lead to overzealous fans calling out songs, rushing the stage, and/or overstaying their welcome. Murdoch came fully equipped with retorts for every request for a song, stating “Oh, that’s a good idea… we’ll play that one tomorrow.” Milwaukee fans, for the most part, took the hint, and the band curate their own setlist on Friday night – which you can see below.

By the end of the night, the two-hour set was plenty to keep fans new and old happy. Belle & Sebastian performed an ideal mix of new favorites (“The Party Line” and “Perfect Couples” were highlights, including an impromptu “freestyle” about Happy Days) and classic staples, like “I’m A Cuckoo”, “Stars of Track & Field”, “Mayfly”, and “Sukie In The Graveyard” were each performed perfectly, and as they have in the past, invited a large group of fans on stage for the time-honored “The Boy With The Arab Strap”. The band closed their set with “Sleep The Clock Around” accompanied by a live bagpipe player (also “pulled” from the crowd) and “If You’re Feeling Sinister”, which seemed to be a fitting end for a crowd stereotypically filled with drinkers and agitators. The crowd on Friday night, however, was incredibly respectful, as they should be for a band who’s taken nearly 20 years perfecting their show.


Nobody’s Empire
I’m A Cuckoo
The Party Line
The Stars of Track And Field
A Politician’s Silence
Sukie In The Graveyard
Perfect Couples
Lord Anthony
The Everlasting Muse
The Power of Three
Jonathan David
A Summer Wasting
The Boy With The Arab Strap
Legal Man
Sleep The Clock Around
We Are The Sleepyheads
If You’re Feeling Sinister