Courtney Barnett & Kurt Vile Bring Their Strange Slacker Magic to New York City

Danny Cohen
Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile

Lotta Sea Lice might not be the most enticing name for an album, but Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile brought a relaxed, welcoming vibe to the Beacon Theater on Wednesday (Nov. 1) night when their tour rolled through New York City.

Their collaborative album (Barnett's second, Vile's seventh overall) has just been out a couple weeks, but the crowd treated each song from Lotta Sea Lice like an old friend, bobbing along to the album's gentle, languid grooves and toking up during songs like they were long-running stoner rock classics.

The duo got started with album opener "Over Everything," trading laid-back vocals and guileless smiles while letting their guitar solos expand ever so slightly from the LP version.

While most of the arrangements stayed faithful to what you hear on the album (you're not going to drastically alter a song just two weeks after its release), the songs felt fuller and more satisfying in a live setting than they do on record. There's a palpable camaraderie between the two that infects the room, something readily apparent by watching the effortless musical chemistry between the two affable outsiders. It's not unlike the difference between the Grateful Dead on wax vs. live – Kurt and Courtney together create songs that are enjoyable to listen to on headphones, but thrilling in the concert setting; despite their shared easygoing attitude, their music is drenched in combustible energy when they take the stage. 

The album's humor comes through especially well in the live setting, too. On the studio version of "Blue Cheese," the line about Tina ("I met a girl named Tina / That girl supplies the reeferina") might make you wince, but watching it delivered with an affable wink on stage, it's kind of cute. Same with album standout "Continental Breakfast" – it's wonderful on the album, but transcendent in concert, providing a heartwarming snapshot of friendships that blossom on the road regardless of differences in geography (Barnett is from Melbourne; Vile from Philly) or style (her razor-sharp debut bristled with nervous energy; his oeuvre ensures that slacker rock is alive and well in the 21st century).

When they wrapped with the lovely album-closer "Untogether," it was sad to say goodbye to the show. Sure, rock theatrics from more outgoing performers are impressive and exciting, but that usually gets tiring. When you're part of a concert that feels more like a jam session in a living room, those are the ones you don't want to leave. And Barnett and Vile neatly pull off that trick on their dual tour simply by staying true to their slacker selves.


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