Courtney Barnett, Pappy & Harriet's, January 31, 2020You could argue that Pappy & Harriet's is not within reasonable distance from almost anywhere. It's a hell of a drive from the heart of Los Angeles on a good day. Throw in SoCal's notoriously congested Friday afternoon traffic, and a nominally two-hour trip almost doubled in duration. But hey, we knew that going in. Might as well enjoy the scenery and the company.
After stops at a San Gabriel dumpling destination and our resident casino hotel, we finally made our way to Pappy & Harriet's at an uncharacteristically (for me) nontwitchy hour ... and promptly squeezed into a crowded, buzzing room as opening act Hachiku started her set. As it was only my second time there, I'll eventually figure out what's a good hour to arrive at Pappy & Harriet's for those of us who aren't vertically blessed. It was fine, even if I had to curve my gaze around fans and phones alike in front of me. That's the price you pay for favoring small, no-frills rooms with low stages.
Courtney came onstage in her typical low-key style, and after the initial chatter, the crowd appeared to be good fans and not just the onlookers and scenesters who show up at LA gigs. It was hard to say how many people had trekked out for the show and how many were locals, though it soon became clear that a contingent of faithful fans had followed her out to the desert. One of them requested "Sunday Roast," and she obliged. At other points, they filled in the harmonies and backing vocals for beloved tracks. A young child in the audience managed to project their voice enough that Courtney could hear their "I love you" through the bustle of the bar. And as much as the crowd embraced her, she said she wanted to spend more time in the area as well, maybe even buy a house. Score one for Pioneertown!
This was Courtney's solo tour, and it was just her and a guitar or two. But anyone who knows me knows that I love the stripped-down treatment. She made the usual jokes of an artist striking out on their own, asking us to imagine a guitar solo, but she didn't need to. Her breezy delivery and melodies did more than enough work to carry us along. As I understand it, she did her standard set, with "Depreston," "Avant Gardener," and one of the tracks with Kurt Vile. She revealed that the song she had been calling "Untitled" now had a title (that I can't recall), and she threw in a few covers. One was by an Australian band that I didn't recognize, but the others spanned a variety of influences: Hank Williams (perhaps inspired by our environment), the Lemonheads, and -- my not at all secret wish granted -- Gillian Welch. Insert heart eyes emoji.
Several years ago, I realized that a new generation of indie rock was taking over, and I had neither the desire nor the energy to pursue some of those names. For the most part, I'm fine with that decision, but at times, I realize I've been slow on the uptake with other amazing artists. Yes, it took a long time and a lot of miles for me to finally see Courtney Barnett in her element (I don't count Solid Sound since that was a festival), but I wouldn't change a thing. If Courtney stays true to her word, this may not be the last time I travel far out west to catch her show.
Hachiku was also a solo female performer, a German woman currently living in Australia. Her voice packed power at times, and she also sang a couple of covers: the Cranberries' "Dreams" (RIP Dolores) and Nena's "99 Luftballons." As someone who came of age in the '80s, I knew the song was a commentary on the Cold War, but somehow, it sounded more emphatic sung in German -- maybe because I didn't hear the line about Captain Kirk. I'm always up for an '80s revival and am doubly pleased when artists who were at best in diapers during that time are coming around to the decade's charms. Let's dance!
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