Courtney Barnett paints Rock City blue with her strongest set to date  

Australia's sunny garage grunge moves into the shade for Courtney Barnett's stellar Nottingham show

Right now, Courtney Barnett is blue. Where 2018’s Tell Me How You Really Feel was all red – hitting out at internet trolls, violence against women just about everything else with hard-edged Aussie grunge (“I’m not your mother, I’m not your bitch… put up or shut up”), last year’s Things Take Time, Take Time mellowed back into indigo ennui. 

Daubing the backdrop of Nottingham’s Rock City with the same colours as her album sleeve (and her T-shirt), Barnett returns to sing the blues her own way – making loud, happy music for quiet, sad people. Swapping anger for numbness and frustration for irony, the new songs meet the old hits somewhere in the middle, now crystalised by last year’s Anonymous Club, a documentary that showed just how difficult Barnett finds fame. 

Awkward introspection has always been Barnett’s stock in trade. Looking slightly lost whenever she’s not playing, talk was kept to a minimum at Rock City as she worked the stage – mildly embarrassed about saying hello, but always completely comfortable opening up the most painful parts of herself whenever she can hide them behind a perfect riff or a deadpan lyric. 

A close copy of her recent Glastonbury set, Barnett seemed much more at home in the dark of a club – rage-lightning ‘Pedestrian At Best’ with strobes and keeping herself in silhouette for pretty much everything else. 

“This is the loudest crowd we’ve had over here” she grins, as the two beautifully soft openers from Things Take Time, Take Time pick up speed into ‘Avant Gardener’ and ‘Nameless, Faceless’. The energy peaks mid-set for ‘Depreston’ (with self-loathing in the suburbs touching a nerve for the mid-30s crowd), and a beautiful addition of ‘On Script’, from the Kurt Vile duet album, Lotta Sea Lice

Finishing big with ‘Nobody Really Cares If You Don’t Go To The Party’, ‘Lance Jr’ and her new jangle-pop anthem ‘Write A List Of Things To Look Forward To’, Barnett returns for an encore that brings things back to blue. Ending softly with ‘Oh The Night’, the last track from her latest album, Barnett brings both sides of her sound back together perfectly. Played live, her gentler, more intimate lyrics sound much more urgent than they do on the record – just as her heavier tracks now feel closer, more personal, and less tidy.

Contradictions have always been at the heart of Barnett’s music (“I love you I hate you…”, “I wanna go out but I wanna stay home…”) but here both sides of her back catalogue help her finally sound comfortable with indecision. Writing Things Take Time, Take Time in her flat in lockdown – not wanting to annoy the neighbours with anything too loud – Barnett returns to the stage with her strongest set to date.

This might be her blue period, but she’s painting with more colours than ever before. 

Courtney Barnett is playing the UK again in November, with tickets available here.