Waterfront parks were never intended to cross paths with punk rock music.
This past Monday, Prescott Park looked the same as it did for any of its other beloved city-funded shows. Blankets strewn across the grassy lawn, lawn chars stacked in makeshift rows overlooking the blankets, and a cool breeze comfortably sweeping across Portsmouth’s harbor and through the contented crowd. The picnic-style assemblage faced a stage with a particularly childish backdrop of a pink and white castle towering upwards of 30 feet. The castle was mainly intended for plays and musicals that Prescott Park hosts throughout the summer, but it also served as an obscure point of comfort for the city’s normally even-tempered concerts.
Unfortunately for some, Courtney Barnett did not intend to fly half-way across the world and put on an even-tempered show. She emerged from behind the castle and the traditionally immobile crowd flooded to the front of the stage for a better vantage point. Frequent patrons of Prescott Park’s concert series desperately shouted “sit down!” But as more people ran forward to stake their claim, it became clear that there was no choice but to follow suit for a decent view of the show.
So why did they all need to be so close? Prescott Park hosts dozens of shows every summer, but people largely stay seated for the entirety of each performance out of respect for each other’s space and comfort. Courtney Barnett’s opening track “Hopefulessness” explained exactly why. Her touring bassist Bones Sloane led with a bassline so slow and heavy you could see audience members biting their lower lip. Courtney entered with her trademark talk/sing vocal style as she set a calmly sinister tone to the evening. Overhead lights flickered on and the cutesy pink castle faded to a dark, menacing red. When drummer Dave Mudie joined in the mix with slow, ominous percussion, it both looked and sounded as if Barnett and her bandmates were leading the audience on a spine-tingling death march through an evil red dungeon.
Prescott’s Park’s aging regulars looked confused. This unholy grunge was as far from the mean as their cherished concert series got. This was supposed to be a calming Monday evening for god’s sake!
Sadly for them, Barnett and her bandmates would dive even further into the depths of punk rock and all it’s provisional, sweat-stained glory. Songs like “City Looks Pretty”, “I’m Not Your Mother, I’m Not Your Bitch”, and “Pedestrian At Best” all saw Barnett yelling back at her appalling adversaries in clamorous, emancipating disdain. Even for her softer songs, Barnett would dirty them up by leaning her head back, projectile spitting 5 feet into the air, and allowing purposefully messy guitar screeches into ad-libbed solos for a more raw, unfiltered aesthetic.
Courtney Barnett’s set continually promoted her self-assured apathy, letting the world know that she didn’t think much about society’s moral enemies given they don’t deserve an ounce of her often wavering attention. However, the last few minutes of her set showed that she was a exceptionally empathetic towards people who deserved it.
Barnett had largely tuned out any song requests and screams of “I love you” from the crowd for the majority of her performance, yet she still set aside a few minutes just to talk to everyone before her final song “History Eraser”. “We’re flying to London tomorrow, otherwise it’d be nice to stay…have a swim.” Barnett said. “Can you swim here?” she asked, chuckling at her wandering mind. The crowd laughed along, then were interrupted by a small patch of arms frantically flailing and yelling “it’s our friend’s birthday!” Barnett smiled and lazily started playing some riffs loosely relating to the happy birthday song. Her attempt got messy enough to the point that stopped, snickered, and mumbled “I should really learn that properly…” Just the attempt itself had the audience glowing. This Australian rock star’s mental separation and rogue confidence was not only inspiring, it was a refreshing departure from the typically temperate music/culture Prescott Park is used to hearing.
Below is a playlist featuring every track performed in order by Courtney Barnett during her trip to Prescott Park this past Monday.
Favorite Live Tracks: Depreston, Pedestrian At Best, Avant Gardener, Hopefulessness, City Looks Pretty