Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile show their musical compatibility at ACL Live

Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile perform at ACL Live on Saturday, November 11, 2017. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman

Australia’s Courtney Barnett and Philadelphia’s Kurt Vile have been two of indie-rock’s most promising singer-songwriters of the past decade, and when they teamed up to make an album together this year, it made a lot of sense. Their music had always seemed to share a common wavelength, based on an appreciation for loosely structured, garage-based rock ’n’ roll that relies mainly on strong songwriting.

PHOTOS: Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile perform at ACL Live at the Moody Theater, Nov. 11, 2017

Courtney Barnett performing at ACL Live on Saturday, November 11, 2017. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman

“Lotta Sea Lice” was released last month, and on Saturday, the duo wrapped up a monthlong U.S. tour of 21 cities with a 90-minute concert at ACL Live that served as a showcase for the record. Their 15-song set included eight of the album’s nine tracks, with Barnett and Vile cherry-picking high points from their respective solo careers to fill out the rest of the show.

RELATED: Our 2015 interview with Courtney Barnett

Their aesthetics are so similar that they often passed lead vocals back-and-forth within verses, sometimes even line-by-line, and it never sounded jarring or discordant. Accompanied by keyboardist Katie Harkin, drummer Stella Mozgawa (of the band Warpaint) and guitarist Rob Laakso (from Vile’s longtime band the Violators), the duo played a relatively low-key set. Vile switched back-and-forth between electric and acoustic guitars as the music followed a mostly folk-centered vibe, with occasional accents of fuzzed-out psychedelics. They performed with minimal stage decoration under spartan lighting that suggested back-alley streetlamps, keeping the focus directly on the music.

When they sang together in choruses of songs, they paired in unison (sometimes high-low, sometimes in the same key) as often as they struck harmonies. From the new record, which they followed almost in sequence for the show’s first six songs, standouts included Barnett’s “Let It Go” (see clip below) and Vile’s goofy but endearingly catchy “Blue Cheese.”

Vile’s “On Tour,” “Pretty Pimpin” and “Life Like This” helped to flesh out the set, though it was Barnett’s ringers “Depreston,” “Dead Fox” and the night-closing “Avant Gardener” that seemed more highly anticipated by fans. Three covers also further illuminated the connection between the artists. “Fear Is Like a Forest,” by Barnett’s partner Jen Cloher (who opened the show) and Tanya Donelly’s “Untogether,” from Belly’s 1993 album Star, both appear on the album.

The latter in particular was a standout live, the only number on which Vile and Barnett sang together for the entire song. Less successful was the encore-opening “Elvis Presley Blues”; though pulling from the catalog of Americana aces Gillian Welch and David Rawlings was a smart move, the song felt focused primarily on Barnett, with Vile seeming less invested.

RELATED: Photos from Kurt Vile’s 2016 show in Austin

Cloher’s six-song opening set was a minor revelation, in part because it was the first chance most Americans have had to hear her perform live. A longtime force on the Australian indie scene with her band the Endless Sea, the 44-year-old singer-songwriter consistently delivered first-rate songs, with engaging banter sprinkled between them. It was the best opening set I’ve seen at ACL Live since last spring’s Patty Griffin show with Anais Mitchell, who similarly held the crowd’s full attention with just her voice and acoustic guitar.

Kurt Vile performing at ACL Live on Saturday, November 11, 2017. Suzanne Cordeiro for American-Statesman

Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile set list:
1. Over Everything
2. Let It Go
3. Fear Is Like a Forest
4. Continental Breakfast
5. Out of the Woodwork
6. On Script
7. On Tour
8. Depreston
9. Life Like This
10. Blue Cheese
11. Dead Fox
12. Untogether
Encore:
13. Elvis Presley Blues
14. Pretty Pimpin
15. Avant Gardener

Jen Cloher set list:
1. Save Me From What I Want
2. David Bowie Eyes
3. Sensory Memory
4. Kamikaze Origami
5. Rain
6. Strong Woman

 


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