Darren Hanlon - This affable Aussie kicked off the evening with a fine solo acoustic set. His songs present fully considered scenarios and musings, which often take a circuitous route to fruition. One tune’s introduction featured fond remembrances of a fistfight that occurred in his hometown one Christmas Eve, then segued into a lament over the lack of good Mexican food down under. Hanlon’s songs rise or fall on the strength of his wordplay. His love of a memorable turn of phrase leads to lyrics that vacillate between clever and questionable, as demonstrated by two tracks he performed off his 2002 LP Hello Stranger, “Punk’s Not Dead” (she’s “just gone to bed”) and “Don’t Cheat the Future” (as “you’re just cheating yourself”). At his best, Hanlon gives sagacious advice on religion (warning us not to “underestimate the fitness of a determined Jehovah’s witness”) and aging, proclaiming that, while hair turns gray and skin turns to leather, “the best thing about growing old is we all do it together.”
Chastity Belt - The individual notches of Chastity Belt complement each other well throughout their mid-tempo rock songs. Guitarist Lydia Lund stands out due to her high-register playing in the verses. Annie Truscott’s bass-playing provides an added dimension to “On the Floor”, while Gretchen Grimm’s stick work (switching between a tom-heavy arrangement and a breezier ride-cymbal beat) propels “IDC”. That song features singer Julia Shapiro’s best moment, as she answers the question “Is it cool not to care?” by shrugging “I don’t really care.” Although Shapiro channels her frustrations into lyrics like “I’m never satisfied” and “I never expect much from anyone”, she gives the impression that negative people and experiences don’t wear on her much anymore. When she dismisses a former acquaintance as “just another man tryin’ to teach me something”, it’s clear she’s left the offending cad far behind. Chastity Belt also gets credit for Shapiro and Truscott playing the set in their socks, as well as posting one of the best band profile pics on all of Facebook (as seen on the link above).photo from 9:30 Club
Courtney Barnett - The innately likable Barnett was tremendous in her headline role. Her three-piece band switches seamlessly from lightly accompanying her meandering inner dialogues to co-navigating her surprisingly heavy breakdowns. Barnett displayed significant instrumental chops on the bluesy “An Illustration of Loneliness (Sleepless in New York)” as well as her purest pop shot, “Dead Fox”. Her songwriting narrates tales of Christmas medical emergencies in “Avant Gardener” and the “Depreston” experience of “getting older and dying, but also looking for a new house in a shitty suburb.” Despite projecting an image of collected cool, Barnett warns listeners repeatedly against placing too much hope on her shoulders. “Pedestrian at Best” explicitly details the perils of putting her on a pedestal, while “Kim’s Caravan” actively seeks to deflect such emotional investment (“I am just a reflection of what you really want to see / so take what you want from me”). The sold-out crowd remained adoring throughout her set, however, an easy feat when cheering a performer whose least awkward stage rap involves asking “Is everyone ok? You guys ok?” An incredibly strong performance that ranks with the best 9:30 shows in recent memory.
Esoterica - Hanlon reminisced about a past 9:30 performance supporting Billy Bragg. He said the club provided him a complementary meal, noting that, after five years of getting drinks on the house at other venues, free food really sticks out in your memory … He also likened the girls dancing on the venue’s side-stage balcony to stalwart Muppets critics Statler and Waldorf, a comparison some musician was bound to make eventually … Between songs, Barnett exposed the differences between American and Australian English. She mistranslated the 40 degrees Celsius temperature in her home country as being equivalent to 150 million degrees Fahrenheit here in the states. Later, she estimated the cost of an onstage item at “two dollars fifty”.