UK singer-songwriter Barns Courtney explores existential themes on 404 | Concert Preview | Chicago Reader

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UK singer-songwriter Barns Courtney explores existential themes on 404

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After Dave Grohl broke his leg early in the Foo Fighters’ 2015 tour, he performed the rest of the dates with his leg in a cast, sitting on a throne of his own design. Singer-songwriter Barns Courtney took Grohl’s shtick up a notch after breaking his foot jumping from the stage at Milwaukee’s Summerfest in 2017: he performed while sitting on a gurney wearing a hospital gown while a “nurse” pushed him around. Courtney is back in hospital garb in the video for “Hollow,” a guitar-and-synth jam off his second studio album, 404 (out September 6 on Virgin/EMI). The 28-year-old Courtney says that “Hollow” and 404 (a reference to the error message for a missing Web page) both signify emptiness and how people lose themselves as they age—we can follow the links to our pasts, but there's nothing there. The British-born singer-songwriter (full name: Barnaby George Courtney) moved to the Seattle area at age four and back to England at 15, where he dug into the British indie scene. His band Dive Bella Dive signed to Island Records when he was just out of high school, and when the label dropped them three years later without releasing an album, Courtney found himself with no skills or work experience. He spent the next three years doing odd jobs before landing an audition for a record producer in the bar of London’s Ace Hotel. The song he played—a gospel-tinged number called “Fire”—wound up on the soundtrack of the 2015 Bradley Cooper movie Burnt, and later became the kickoff track of Courtney’s major-label debut, 2017’s The Attractions of Youth. On 404 he offers up ten melodic, psychedelic, and sometimes dance-worthy tunes, infusing each of them with his deep, rich voice, which is reminiscent of Iggy Pop and David Bowie. Courtney’s live shows can be sweaty affairs—he goes all-out when he performs, often ending up shirtless or even pantsless—but I wouldn’t expect him to leap off the stage again anytime soon.   v

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