Recent weeks have started to feel happily ‘old normal’ with international acts touring and visiting the country again, I have been delighted to see some of my favourites in the past couple of months, Kurt Vile, Courtney Marie Andrews, and Starcrawler (twice!). During the pandemic years the artist I listened to most at home – by some considerable margin – was Courtney Barnett, Nottingham being the nearest city to Norwich on her tour I did not hesitate in getting tickets for her show at Rock City on Friday 1st July 2022.
I had some nerves about the rail travel as the day approached (due to uncertainties about their running) but got to Nottingham without problems and the first person I saw was my friend Taryn, on the platform, who unbeknownst to me was sitting on the same coach on the same train. Nice synchronicity.
A few hours were spent looking around Nottingham but all I could really think about was the countdown to the evening’s show. Rather like our own Waterfront, Fridays and Saturdays at Rock City are early starts to accommodate their later club nights, so doors were at 6:30pm with set time for support act audiobooks at 7:15pm. Rock City proudly claims to be ‘The UK’s best live venue and club’, which on my first visit I believe to be quite justified. The layout was good and the sound for both acts absolutely superb, it also has good sightlines and vantage points with an upstairs balcony and it had plentiful bars but I was only focussed on securing a good spot near the front with no intention of moving away from it until the show was over. I certainly was gripped and happy to enjoy the highly original indie-dance set by audiobooks who were just wonderful. This duo, signed to Heavenly Records, had interesting and varied songs and charmed us all, fans of Bjork, Dry Cleaning and perhaps even Let’s Eat Grandma and Sink Ya Teeth fans will love them. I am a new convert. There is nothing generic about audiobooks, at various points they hit certain genres and subgenres musically but always sound utterly unique and unusual. They are a delightful discovery for me.
As we got closer to Courtney Barnett’s 8:15pm set time I had rarely been more excited waiting for a set to start and was not alone in that. The atmosphere was rather special, these were not casual, curious gig-goers, it was devotees all the way and more of a congregation, almost like the Smiths gigs of the 1980s, the awkward introverts liberated by the common bond and love of an artist that speaks to them. One fan asked me “Are you excited?“. Of course I replied in the affirmative and she then added that she’d travelled from Norwich for this gig! What are the odds that the person stood next to me had made the same journey for the same reason?! It was only after a further few minutes chatting that we realised we knew each other but hadn’t twigged at first because of the unlikely context, and yet this sort of coincidence/synchronicity does happen so often at gigs.
Bang on cue Courtney, Bones, Dave and Stella took to the stage to a loud and warm greeting as they went straight into Rae Street, Sunfair Sundown (the opening two tracks from excellent new album Things Take Time, Take Time), and for third song of the set, Avant Gardener, it felt like the whole room was singing along. I was welling up with emotion by this point, this feeling like a bucket-list gig for me and it was not only living up to all my hopes and expectations but exceeding them all. I’d read that this run of gigs was brilliant, a few days earlier Courtney and the band had played a triumphant set at Glastonbury (one of only a couple of occasions I have been frustrated at not having any TV access so have not had the pleasure of watching it), followed by successful gigs in Cardiff and Liverpool. The day after this one she was to support The Rolling Stones (“the irony”!) at Hyde Park, no less!
The sound was fantastic and everyone in the audience appeared to know every word to every song. I was pleased at the inclusion in the set of Turning Green – also one from the latest album – which starts with a cowbell and ends with some incredible guitar shredding from Courtney. It felt like one of the highlights among many highlights and then she followed it with one of my absolute favourites – Depreston – and this was very special, everyone singing along loudly which even seemed to take Courtney aback and she thanked us for the lovely singing afterwards.
There were so many great moments in this magnificent set, which was varied and all albums were represented, Pedestrian at Best taking the moshing to new levels of exuberance from the younger and more mobile in the crowd. The biggest danger was from dehydration but the Rock City security were on the case dispensing cups of water from the barrier at the front.
Closing the 18-song set with Write a List of Things to Look Forward to the audience then absolutely demanded an encore and the band duly obliged, Courtney thanking us and saying this was the loudest UK audience they had ever played to. I think we were going to get a couple of songs but fell foul of the looming early curfew, probably missing out on the sublime Before You Gotta Go from the latest LP but we were treated to Oh the Night, from the same album and were all buzzing from an exceptional gig.
It was a great, great night which will live long in my memory, this was precisely the sort of gig I was dreaming of and wishing for during the depths of those wretched, prolonged lockdowns and I was trying to fully live in the moment and experience every second of it. One of my all time favourite gigs by an all-time fave artist in an excellent venue. The sound quality in Rock City was first rate too. My new benchmark for my best gigs is if I stop noticing the pains in my leg and back for the duration of a set. Courtney ticked that box! Thank you for a wonderful night and unforgettable show.
One other observation, post-gig, and the only thing remotely close to any kind of gripe was that at the venue run merch stall at which I couldn’t resist a t-shirt and had the right money all ready in my hand but was told that they couldn’t accept cash, only to then have several minutes trying and failing to negotiate with a temperamental card reader struggling for a signal, I very nearly gave up after the third or fourth failed attempt. The bars at Rock City accepted cash but more and more venues and their bars are not and I’m not at all comfortable with this, the sooner we all push back against this ‘cashless’ direction the better. I’ve no problem about the contactless option being available alongside cash but resent being forced into the cashless way. I resist this as much as possible, cash is still legal tender the last I heard and many of us have very good and valid reasons for preferring it (one being my account was almost empty), and surely that pandemic myth about cash being somehow a transmission risk has been wholly debunked.