Courtney Barnett’s MTV Unplugged is an undeniable gem

Courntey+Barnett+during+her+performance+on+MTV+Unplugged.+The+live+album+was+released+on+Dec.+6%2C+2019.

Courtesy Grandstand Media

Courntey Barnett during her performance on MTV Unplugged. The live album was released on Dec. 6, 2019.

On Dec. 6, Courtney Barnett, the Australian born singer-songwriter and musician, released her “MTV Unplugged” performance. Consisting of 8 acoustic songs (43 minutes), both original and covers, they display Barnett’s raw talent of songwriting and musicianship. On Oct. 22, the album was recorded in her home town of Melbourne. With the birds singing in the outdoor atmosphere, what the microphones picked up was magic. 

The performance starts with “Depreston,” off of her 2015 debut LP Sometimes I Sit and Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit. To start, the song is already incredible. But her rendition of it in this performance, though not too different from the album, displays the unplugged sound of the trademark MTV production. The twangy and clear acoustic guitar, mixed with the way Barnett plays it, lays under her voice beautifully. The drums subtly sink in, and a lone cello accompanies Barnett for this and most of the other songs in the performance. It’s heavy on the heart. It’s, again, raw. It sets the stage for what the rest of the performance will deliver. 

During “Unplugged,” Barnett taps into her impressive repertoire of favorites, performing “Sunday Roast” and “Avant Gardener.””

During “Unplugged,” Barnett taps into her impressive repertoire of favorites, performing “Sunday Roast” and “Avant Gardener.” Much like “Depreston,” there’s a certain feeling to “Sunday Roast” in “Unplugged” that is so appealing. Maybe it’s the more animated and impressive singing by Barnett. Or maybe it’s the live atmosphere, where there’s energy not produced in the studio. Either way, it’s very appealing. “Avant Gardener,” off of her 2014 double EP, A Sea of Split Peas, displays Barnett the wordsmith, and it creates the same intriguing sound. 

Throughout the show, Barnett was joined on stage by fellow Australian musicians Paul Kelly, Marlon Williams, and fellow Milk! Records signee Evenlyn Ida Morris. With Kelly and Williams, Barnett plays folky Australian songs which don’t make a huge splash in comparison to “Depreston” or “Sunday Roast,” but they’re a nice representation of Australian influence on Barnett. It’s very cute. But what stands out in these guest appearances is Evelyn Ida Morris playing piano for Barnett’s song “Nameless, Faceless.” It’s grungy. It’s dramatic. It’s eerie. It’s somewhat off-putting, being accustomed to a band playing behind the involved and ecstatic Barnett’s to an upbeat rock song. “Nameless Faceless” turns into a show tune from a musical, echoing The Phantom of the Opera. But it works. Courtney Barnett always makes it work. 

Showcasing her twangy, picky, country-like guitar playing, Barnett delivers a brand-new, never before heard song of hers on “Unplugged.””

Showcasing her twangy, picky, country-like guitar playing, Barnett delivers a brand-new, never before heard song of hers on “Unplugged. “Untitled (Play it on Repeat)” is an emotional and dismal song featuring devastating lyrics. “Every day I wake / Hope it’s a mistake / Wish I could go back to dreaming.” For a Courtney Barnett song, it’s unexpectedly non-comical, down to earth and serious. But it’s great. “Untitled (Play it on Repeat)” really makes this “Unplugged” performance exciting and new. Though a chance to see Barnett in any context is a great opportunity and extremely rewarding, to be able to listen to her play a new song for an audience is outstanding and will make this album an outlier in her discography.

She closes the set with a compelling cover of Leanard Cohen’s “So Long, Marianne.” Faint (yet annoyingly off-tune) backing vocals and a lone cello support Barnett’s emotional performance. Courntey Barnett’s MTV “Unplugged” is not very long. It’s only eight songs, and less time than her debut record, Sea of Split Peas. But it is still worthwhile. It’s an unplugged Courtney Barnett, which is a familiar sound, but still so mesmerizing.