Barrie’s Sweet, Soft Camaraderie Cut Through The Din Of SXSW
Pleasant may sound like faint praise, but it’s hard work to be pleasant. It’s even harder to be pleasant while sustaining people’s focus. To do so in an attention-span vacuum like SXSW, where another concert is always waiting around the corner, is borderline Herculean.
So kudos to Barrie, the Brooklyn-based project of Boston native Barrie Lindsay, for keeping the crowd at Ad Hoc’s day party rapt at attention. Playing the indoor stage at Cheer Up Charlies, the quintet kicked out one delightful tune after another. They exhibited the camaraderie and sophistication of a seasoned unit — this despite the fact that their debut album is still a month and a half from release. It’s called Happy To Be Here, and Friday afternoon, both band and audience certainly seemed like it.
Barrie play graceful, mannered music that distills a few complementary sounds from across the decades. There’s a lot of the ’70s in them, be it Carole King’s soft rock as revived by Natalie Prass, Fleetwood Mac’s sparkling pop-rock as revived by Haim, or even some lite funk and disco. There’s also some ’80s dream-pop in there (think Cocteau Twins) and some ’90s indie-pop (think Belle & Sebastian). While I wouldn’t call their sound pioneering due to its comfortable familiarity, it’s one of those mixtures that feels like its own thing because it’s a personal vision that’s long been simmering within its creator.
Lindsay clearly has a distinct vision, but that vision involves casual interplay with her bandmates. They sound as friendly as they look piled together in a chair on their album cover. Much of Barrie’s charm results from this chemistry, the way the lush arrangements breathe with loose playfulness rather than the stifling stiffness that can sometimes befall this kind of music. They seem to have so much fun playing with each other that it never feels overly precious. Her introduction of the band members and their hometowns after the second song was charming.
The group aims to create “a well-crafted pop song that’s a little bit fucked up,” but that description oversells the weirdness factor. Barrie mostly play it straight, yet they do it with lovely flourishes that keep you attuned to the music: plinking piano punctuated by guitar stabs, a rolling drumbeat against fervent descending bass, a cloud of floaty keyboard chords, Lindsay and fellow guitarist Noah Prebish spinning harmonized riffs and solos. They have four vocal mics, and they really use them.
Barrie suffered some minor audio setbacks at the start of Friday’s set, but it worked in their favor. The subtle staticky sound that enveloped their first few songs created the illusion that we were listening to an old vinyl LP, which — despite the crisper, more modern sound of their recordings — is basically the vibe their live show gives off anyway. Yet it never fades into the background like a record sometimes can. On “Michigan,” a selection with a disco skip in its step, Lindsay sang, “I’ve been sleeping on the roof/ I wanna see where I go.” About that: She appears to have a long, successful road ahead of her, largely because she understands how to get people to tune in without getting them to turn up.
Happy To Be Here is out 5/3 on Winspear. Pre-order it here.