Here and There Festival. Mission Ballroom. 09.03.22
“I got lost somewhere between Here And There, I’m not sure what the town was called”
Here and There was touted as a “touring festival,” but not in the way Lollapalooza or Warped were touring festivals. Curated by Courtney Barnett, it was essentially her summer tour with a rotating cast of opening acts. Unlike The Wild Hearts Tour, which saw Sharon Van Etten create a tight-knit family with Angel Olsen and Julien Baker, Here and There presented a unique lineup each night, with Courtney being the only common denominator throughout the tour. The festival was inspired by her curation of the Sonic City festival in Belgium and a Valentine’s Day Newport Folk Foundation event, as well as her passion for supporting artists she admires. The diverse group of musicians who joined her on stage, either here or there, included Alvvays, Sleater-Kinney, Faye Webster, Lucy Dacus, Waxahatchee, Bartees Stange, and many others. The tour’s last stop, at the Mission Ballroom in Denver, included Bedouine, Arooj Aftab, and Japanese Breakfast.
Azniv Korkejian, who performs as Bedouine, had the misfortune of a five o’clock set. Not so early for a festival but early for a Saturday night at Mission Ballroom. Those who showed up were well rewarded, though. Korkejian was born in Aleppo and spent her formative years in Saudi Arabia before moving to the United States with her family. Her lyrics are predominately in English, but they come from a place foreign to many in the west. Her Armenian roots and memories of Arabia add flavor to the melancholic melodies and universal truths about life, love, and loss. “We’ll start slow and then rock ‘n’ roll,” she joked as she sat down with her guitar before adding, “well, not that slow,” when she realized it wasn’t plugged in. Leaning heavily on her debut self-titled album, including her Leonard Cohen-esque “Solitary Daughter,” she only chose one track from her latest, “Waysides.” Hers was a calming set, with very little banter, but she broke the spell before “Dusty Eyes” by recommending “some consensual touching and slow dancing.” After which she disappointingly pointed out, “I didn’t see anyone making out…maybe I freaked you out, which is totally reasonable.” The short set ended with her most well-known song, “One of These Days,” and then she was gone. She would be back with Courtney in a couple of hours.
Bedouine Setlist: You Kill Me, When You’re Gone, The Solitude, Solitary Daughter, Nice and Quiet, Dusty Eyes, One of These Days
Like Bedouine, Arooj Aftab also has connections to Saudi Arabia. She was born in the Kingdom before moving to her family’s native Pakistan around the same time Bedouine moved to Arabia from Syria. I will not embarrass myself by trying to explain Arooj’s music. I have heard her style described as ghazal, qawwali, thumri, and her lyrics are in Urdu (or Hindustani, according to some articles), but those are just labels, and language does not establish a barrier to enjoying her music. Arooj and her band transformed the Mission Ballroom into a multicultural jazz club, performing in mostly darkness, only bathed in a blue hue.
Sticking to selections from the tribute to her late brother, “Vulture Prince,” each song had the growing audience transfixed. Maeve Gilchrist’s mesmerizing fingers across the harp strings, Darian Donovan Thomas’ larger-than-life persona on violin, and whoever was killing it on strings threatened to steal the show, which would not have been a problem for Arooj. “I get to stand up here and drink wine while these amazing musicians do all the work.” While there was something otherworldly about the music, she brought us back to Earth between every song. “Feel free to throw your bras on stage; it’s that kind of party…you might think these songs sound sacred, but they are about getting drunk and failing at love.” Like Bedouine before her, she performed songs about universal feelings, and just because they were sung in a foreign tongue did not make them unrelatable. Also, like Bedouine, she joked about the songs themselves. “We saved the banger for last; this is our hit song,” she proclaimed before ending the set with the eight-minute “Mohabbat.” Anything but a banger, it did win her a Grammy.
Arooj Aftab Setlist: Baghon Main, Suroor, Diya Hai, Last Night, Saans Lo, Mohabbat
Out of the darkness came Courtney Barnett and her electric guitar. Dressed all in white, with blinding fluorescent colors swirling in the background, the hostess of the evening didn’t waste any time getting down to business. No one in the world can make the mundane sound so damn exciting! How can a song about living in an apartment in Australia (one of the most locked-down countries) during a pandemic be so much fun?
“In the morning, I’m slow
I drag a chair over to the window
And I watch what’s going on
The garbage truck tiptoes along the road
Light a candle for the sufferin’
Send my best wishes with the wind
All our candles, hopes, and prayers
Though well-meanin’, they don’t mean a thing
Unless we see some change
I might change my sheets today.”
On paper, that sounds depressing as hell, as does “Avant Gardener,” “Nameless, Faceless,” and “Depreston,” and pretty much every other song that had the audience in Denver singing and dancing and screaming for more. Courtney Barnett is relentless in pursuing meaning in pedestrian lives, giving equal footing to the abandoned household items of recently deceased elderly that she gives to overdoses and her own internal monologue. It is what I have always loved about her music. She has a magical way with words, weaving her stream of consciousness into rock (and even punk) songs. This aspect of her music might turn some listeners off, but no one can deny her power in a live setting. Whether you are yelling along with “I’ll only disappoint you!” or just closing your eyes and rocking out to the crunchy guitar, it is a show you will not soon forget. The fact that she gave up to headlining slot to Japanese Breakfast shows how much she cares about the groups that tour with her, so it wasn’t surprising that her only pause between songs was a thank you to everyone who shared the stage with her. She even brought Bedouine out for a duet for “Of the Night” before closing her set with “Before You Gotta Go.”
Courtney Barnett Setlist: Rae Street, Avant Gardender, Nameless Faceless, Small Poppies, Turning Green, Depreston, Elevator Operator, History Eraser, Pedestrian at Best, Write a List of Things to Look Forward To, Oh the Night, Before You Gotta Go
Bedouine opened the night saying she would start slow and then rock ‘n’ roll, but she never got to the rock ‘n’ roll part. Japanese Breakfast did that for her. Taking the stage just before nine o’clock, Michelle Zauner and her ensemble of sharp-dressed men didn’t start slow, but they did start with their pop tunes. “Paprika” and “Be Sweet” were augmented by Zauner’s skills at banging a gong before the woozy “Road Head” led us into “Kokomo, IN.” The set continued down this smooth road for most of the night. The crowd was no less engaged than they were for Courtney, but I couldn’t help but think Barnett should have kept her headlining spot. It was a Saturday night in Denver, and it was still early; it was not the right time to chill things out. After explaining that they had been up since four in the morning to get to Colorado, things started to pick up. And then they began to rock. “Everybody Wants to Love You” set the place on fire. Zauner then went on to a fantastic solo on “Posing for Cars” (“I wrote this song after taking mushrooms in the Poconos.”) before the band came back out, one by one, for a classic jam session that absolutely killed. The whole thing ended with “Diving Woman” before ten o’clock, leaving the crowd with the entire night in front of them.
Japanese Breakfast Setlist: Paprika, Be Sweet, Road Head, Kokomo IN, Boyish, Savage Good Boy, The Body Is a Blade, Glider, Posing in Bondage, Everybody Wants to Love You, Posing for Cars, Diving Woman