On paper, Courtney Barnett and Kurt Vile come off as unlikely collaborators. Hailing from opposite corners of the world – Barnett from Sydney, Australia, Vile from Philadelphia, PA – and producing in different sorts of soundscapes – Barnett preferring a grungier alternative rock to Vile’s lo-fi indie rock – the two seem to make sense on the same playlist, but not on the same stage.
However, last Wednesday at The Fox theater in Oakland, the newly-minted musical duo’s show made any of those second thoughts obsolete. Touring together in support of their collaborative new album, Lotta Sea Lice (2017), Barnett and Vile offered the enthusiastic crowd a little bit of everything – some solo throwbacks, a few covers, and, of course, copious cuts from their new project – and cemented themselves as one of the more interesting and successful musical collaborators in recent memory.
Opening with lead-single, “Over Everything,” Burnett and Vile immediately set the evening’s light and laid-back mood — more reminiscent of a couple of friends jamming and trading songs on stage than a stop on a sprawling promotional tour. Throughout the evening, the duo played a majority of the album’s tracks interspersed with some highlights of their solo work. Barnett and Vile’s “Let it Go” and “Continental Breakfast” made appearances, as did “On Script,” “Blue Cheese,” and album-closer “Untogether.” As if the duo’s combined extensive discography weren’t enough, Barnett and Vile also dipped into other artists’ work as well, opening the encore with a cover of Gillian Welch’s “Elvis Presley Blues.”
For her solo songs, Barnett pulled from both her debut 2014 project The Double EP: A Sea of Split Peas and 2015’s full-length Sometimes I Sit and Think, And Sometimes I Just Sit. Although her solo work, especially notable songs like “Elevator Operator” and “Pedestrian at Best,” tends to swing more raucous than Lotta Sea Lice, crowd-favorites “Depreston” and “Avant Gardener,” which closed out the night, fit in well with her downtempo live collaborations with Vile, while the upbeat “Dead Fox” offered a cheery juxtaposition.
Vile, known for his solo work and stint as lead-guitarist of the alt-rock band The War on Drugs, is a talented singer-songwriter in his own write, comfortable at home on stage alongside Barnett. Performing back-catalogue highlights like “On Tour,” and early cut from 2011’s Smoke Ring for My Halo, and “Life Like This,” off of 2012’s b’lieve i’m goin down…, Vile’s lo-fi indie sound settled over the room like mist, soft guitar riffs and drawn out vocals lingering in the air.
Fusing their different sounds, musical backgrounds, levels of experiences, and geographical influences, Barnett and Vile proved that even the most seemingly-random collaborations can produce great music. Maybe more artists should give it a try.
Written by Jordan Aronson