Back in 2018, a few of Barrie’s first singles began to creep up out of the woodwork. They were eventually passed around with enough word-of-mouth fervor, that the five-piece was able to put out a full-length debut only a year later. Almost simultaneously, Happy to Be Here, one of the best albums of 2019, alienated the purists who would swear only by the initial demos, and the band didn’t last much longer.
Only a few months after its release, Barrie became the solo project of singer-songwriter Barrie Lindsay, who retreated from Brooklyn to Maine as the pandemic unfurled. It was there that Lindsay fell in love with Gabby’s World’s, Gabby Smith, and also where Lindsay’s father’s cancer worsened. The dichotomy of Smith’s entrance and Lindsay’s father’s death provided the basis for almost every song on Barbara, Barrie’s newest album. Barbara, against all odds, is a success, and one that felt more than warranted when Lindsay brought her show to Schubas Tavern in Chicago this past Wednesday, May 18th..
Schubas seemed the perfect place for Barrie to play in Chicago. Carved into the back of one of the city’s older bars, is a modest venue space, and one that Chicago natives and opener, Girl K know well. Their set was typically energetic, evoking a combination of the spritely juvenilia of Kathy Patino’s vocals and the danceable and angular indie-rock backing from the band. It’s a good fit and one that complimented Barrie’s harder edge without coming close to eclipsing a heavier song like “Concrete”, one of the headliner’s best renditions of the night.
Girl K ended early, and in turn, Barrie started early, with the palpable eagerness of a band on the cusp of a new tour. Lindsay and her quartet performed an alternating setlist, pulling evenly from her two solo albums and binding each track together with consistent and rehearsed choreography. Aside from a keyboardist, the band was made up of Lindsay and her two backup vocalists, who performed their interpretive dances in unison and mimed themselves on the stage when their harmonies weren’t needed. One of those singers was Gabby Smith herself, the inspiration for many of the songs played that night, including “Jenny”. As Lindsay introduced that track, she detailed why that particular night was so special – that the wives had met when Barrie was opening for Gabby’s World in Chicago a few years ago. Now, Smith was taking her part in supporting Lindsay, much the way Lindsay had done so for her.
Those tracks from Barbara were aided by that extra nuance, but two of the strongest entries of the night were pulled from Happy to Be Here. That’s a testament to Lindsay’s ability to marry those disparate elements, the full and group-oriented sound of the previous album, with the more, insular, synth-focus of the second. “Geography”s punchy rhythm, with a nice added keyboard solo, and the poppy shimmer of “Clovers” stood out as the career highs they are, but Lindsay to her credit made them seem as fresh as anything new she teased.
Of those newer songs, “Dig” and “Concrete’’ stand out, not just as the finest renditions of their source material, but as two of the tracks that are most significantly pushing Barrie’s sound forward. “Dig” with its inspired harmonies, and “Concrete” with its propulsive theatrics, make them feel urgent, not something than can be said about much of Barrie’s catalog. But both songs never let go of Lindsay’s innate knack for melody and hooks, managing to find a different way to make a Barrie song memorable. The audience could tell and made it clear that that was the sound that the band should be pushing toward, with several of the more reluctant audience members remarking at how they had been “won over”.
As the show came to an end, Lindsay announced there would be no encore and instead closed with “Jersey”, one of the more popular songs off Barbara. That track, another built around the thrill of the blossoming relationship between Lindsay and Smith made for a fitting end. With that and with no backstage to slink off to, the couple exited down the front of the stage with hands held, parting their way through the crowd back to the merch table.