Courtney Barnett at Twilight at Taronga

Courtney Barnett at Twilight at Taronga by Bobby Townsend

Sydney’s Twilight at Taronga series of summer gigs launched last night with a sold-out performance from Grammy nominee Courtney Barnett.

Now in its 21st year, Twilight at Taronga takes place on the concert lawns of the zoo’s natural amphitheatre. Ticket holders strolled through the grounds en route to the venue, meaning that they got to check out some pretty sick tree kangaroos and an elephant. How many other gigs can boast that?

Picnic blankets peppered the lawn as punters enjoyed a drink and some food in the early evening sunshine while support act Jep and Dep delivered a gentle opening to the night. As the sun set, many people abandoned their seated position for a place right in front of the stage in anticipation of Australia’s currently most celebrated daughter. After all, if you’ve got the chance to watch Courtney Barnett from only a few feet away, why wouldn’t you take it? This made for a really intimate atmosphere, while those who wanted to stay seated were still able to have a more chilled experience.

Taking to the stage wearing a baseball cap, Barnett opened with Depreston, and continued by belting out tracks from her acclaimed album, Sometimes I Sit And Think, and Sometimes I Just Sit and her EPs. It’s testament to the quality of these tunes that, despite not being very old, they already feel like greatest hits. As the opening bars rung out, there was a collective feeling amongst the crowd of “oh I love this one.”

Courtney Barnett at Twilight at Taronga by Bobby TownsendBy the second song, Pickles from the Jar, Barnett’s baseball cap had been abandoned and she thrashed her mop of hair around, while her band delivered a strong sound which nodded to post-grunge, slacker/bedroom rock and good ol’ Australian rock. There were some sound issues, which we’ll put down to first night teething problems, but that didn’t take anything away from what was a vibrant, engaging performance.

The really pleasing thing about Courtney Barnett is just how truthful and universal her lyrics are, regardless of the many Aussie reference points. She sums things up so beautifully and in so few words. Take Avant Gardener, for instance: “The paramedic thinks I’m clever cos I play guitar, I think she’s clever cos she stops people dying,” she sings in her droll, laid-back manner. In two lines she touches on the idea of celebrity, the music world, role models, career choices, the healthcare system and the symbiotic relationship between humans. Not bad for a catchy indie song.

Barnett was clearly having fun in the zoo. She rolled around the floor during guitar solos and chatted to the crowd between songs, as the heaving pit before her grew to the extent that those who had arrived early to secure a good picnic spot in front of the stage had to move (note to Twilight novices, pick a space to sit slightly to the side of the stage or a bit further back, as people like to stand at the front during the show).

Courtney Barnett at Twilight at Taronga by Bobby Townsend

After an encore which ended with Pedestrian at Best, a sweaty-haired Courtney Barnett bid us farewell and went back to her day job of world domination. We all packed up our blankets and caught the ferry home, leaving the animals to get some sleep, in the knowledge that Twilight at Tarango had gotten off to a fine start.

All proceeds from Twilight at Taronga presented by ANZ go toward the Taronga Conservation Society Australia – a not for profit organisation dedicated to wildlife conservation, scientific research and environmental sustainability. Here’s the full line-up for the rest of the season. Things are seriously selling out so don’t delay in booking your tickets:

Friday 29 January – JOSH PYKE, supported by Winterbourne SOLD OUT
Saturday 30 January – FAR FROM FOLSOM featuring TEX PERKINS, supported by Vic Simms SOLD OUT
Thursday 4 February – JOHN BUTLER TRIO, supported by Tinpan Orange SOLD OUT
Friday 5 February – JOHN BUTLER TRIO, supported by Tinpan Orange SOLD OUT
Saturday 6 February – THE WAIFS, supported by Ruby Boots SOLD OUT
Friday 12 February – BIRDS OF TOKYO, supported by Fractures SOLD OUT
Saturday 13 February – MISSY HIGGINS, supported by Paul Dempsey SOLD OUT
Sunday 14 February – MISSY HIGGINS, supported by Dustin Tebbutt and Alys Ffion SOLD OUT
Friday 19 February – MARK SEYMOUR & THE UNDERTOW, supported by Ben Salter
Friday 26 February – BJÖRN AGAIN SOLD OUT
Saturday 27 February – BJÖRN AGAIN SOLD OUT
Friday 4 March – VIOLENT FEMMES, supported by Xylouris White SOLD OUT
Saturday 5 March – COLIN HAY
Friday 11 March – C.W. STONEKING, supported by Marlon Williams

For more information on all artists and to get tickets, please visit:

Bobby Townsend


Review and photographs by Bobby Townsend