Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile Rock a Sold-Out Palace Theater


Some nights you just need music that feeds the soul. Music that reminds you the world is still a good place. Music that reminds you there are beautiful people. Music that reminds you there is still creative energy. And most importantly – music that reminds you rock n’ roll is not dead.

Wednesday night at a highly sold-out Palace Theatre in St. Paul was just that. Good, old-fashioned, no-nonsense, rock n’ roll that makes you feel good. And honestly, I think we could all use more nights like that.

This was thanks to Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile (and their backing band, the SEA LICE) with support from their opener Jen Cloher.

Kicking off the evening was Melbourne, Australia-based singer/songwriter Jen Cloher (and wife of Courtney Barnett). “I’ve come from Melbourne to play for you all tonight. This is my first time ever playing St. Paul and Minneapolis, so thank you,” Cloher said to kick off her acoustic set. Choler played a very stripped back, acoustic set which made for the perfect start to the evening.

Though stripped back, there was not a dull moment in Cloher’s roughly thirty-minute set. Cloher is about as engaging as they come when it comes to stage presence. Though it was just her, a mic stand and two acoustic guitars, I felt my eyes glued to her the entire set. I couldn’t look away.

Sprinkled in between songs Cloher told heartfelt stories about each of her songs, all through a charming Australian accent. Cloher talked about being a teenager and falling in love with that one band and becoming obsessed, a feeling most of us know all too well. “Well for me, that band was The Doors,” she said. “I had this giant poster of Jim Morrison on my ceiling, so I’d go to sleep staring into Jim Morrison’s eyes,” Cloher went on.

“So you know when you’ve been single too long, and you start reading books, you know the books…well this song is about that,” Cloher said ahead of Kamikaze Origami. Another stand out from her set was the infectious David Bowie Eyes.

Cloher’s thirty-minute set felt all too short between her soul-bearing lyrics, her too-cool-for-school vibe, and her hilarious stories. We hope this won’t be the last time Choler graces the Twin Cities.

In between sets, The Palace Theater quickly filled up. The energy in the Palace was palpable with anticipation ahead of Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile’s set. At a little after 9:00 pm, these two took to the stage with their band the SEA LICE. More astute music fans might have recognized the drummer of the SEA LICE as Janet Weiss of Sleater-Kinney (which was honestly more a fan girl moment for me than the queen of grunge-folk rock Courtney Barnett herself).

Last night was particularly special for me as Courtney Barnett is an artist that pretty much changed my musical lexicon forever. Barnett is an artist I’ve been drawn to for years now and getting to witness her live at the beautiful Palace theater was nothing short of magical.

Back when I first stumbled across Barnett in college, she challenged everything I knew about “women in music,” and honestly it was a breath of fresh air that I’ve been coming back to ever since. Barnett is raw, real, grungy and gritty. She’s not polished and put together, she wears baggy over-sized t-shirts, she doesn’t worry about her hair, and oh yeah, she’s perhaps one of the most prolific guitar players and singer/songwriters of our generation. Growing up a bit of a “tomboy” myself, I recall feeling akin to Barnett (minus the insane musical talent and rock and roll sensibilities) and seeing a piece of myself in Barnett.

Barnett, along with Vile, were every bit as engaging as I imagined they would be. These two have become the reigning King and Queen of Grunge Folk Rock or whatever we are calling it these days. The duo teamed up for their debut release Lotta Sea Lice and music fans everywhere basically lost their shit.  Barnett has been and continues to be a prolific voice in the current musical landscape.

During the set, there was an undeniable chemistry between Barnett and Vile, often finishing each other’s’ sentences. “I feel like we met half of you at dinner,” Barnett said. “Yeah, we were like just trying to have dinner next door before the show and we kept meeting you guys,” Vile went on.

This friendship and obvious mutual respect between Vile and Barnett translate into a beautiful live set. Both strong singer, songwriters and guitar players in their own right, they know when to take the back seat to the other and vice versa. Their set seamlessly blended songs off their joint album as well Barnett and Vile originals. It all felt so organic and cohesive you almost forget these two just released their joint album last month.

Watching Barnett and Vile just shred through seven-minute songs reminded me that rock n’ roll isn’t dead. Blending elements of folk, blues and punk, Barnett and Vile are proof that good music, real, good, music from the soul,  sans autotune, pitch correction and synth, still exists. It is music that feeds the soul, makes you feel good, and makes you never want it to end. But end it did – not without an encore of course.

Barnett and Vile continue their tour throughout the fall.

Set List: Over Everything / Let It Go / Fear Is Like A Forest / Continental Breakfast / Outta the Woodwork / On Script / Depreston / Like Like This / Blue Cheese / Dead Fox / Untogether / Encore: Elvis Presley Blues / Pretty Pimpin’ / Avant Gardener