Julien Baker


The Deaf Institute is one of my favourite venues, it has a great setup and I have arrived early to finally get the chance at taking a proper seat on the comfy rear bleachers. It is definitely worth it as from the back of the room I can see everything: a perfect view of the stage, the crowd and all the distinctive features that are incorporated into the live room, such as the theatre style red velvet curtains that frame the stage. It is an enjoyable place to be.

The support tonight is Lauren Denitizio of the band Worriers, but tonight playing solo. She tells us this is the last night for her supporting Julien Baker on the tour. She appears a little nervous at first, possibly due to usually playing with a group, causing a few duff notes and chords to be heard at times. However, as the set continues she seems to relax into things. The songs retain their catchy and upbeat sound while being transferred from the pop punky band style of Worriers to a single guitar, and overall, she successfully manages to maintain the crowds interest with her charm, which is not always easy to do.

After Lauren leaves the stage my anticipation builds. I have been excited to see Julien Baker since being transfixed by her performance on Audiotree live that I saw earlier this year. This has been bookmarked ever since for repeated viewings. Julien starts the set tonight with the title track of her 2015 album, Sprained Ankle, which captivates the crowd from the first line, “wish I could write songs about anything other than death.” It’s safe to assume this night is going to be emotional. The melodies are minimalist and stripped down, complementing the fragile nature of her songwriting. Her voice on the other hand is boundless, taking your breath away while it swells with emotion and fills the room. I sometimes have a hard time identifying lyrics at live shows but the performance and sound tonight is perfect and I can hear every nuanced phrase. Although Julien also used to play in a full band, the raw; personal lyrical writing and her strong vocal talents fit her being a solo artist well. It doesn’t take any time to reach her peak, she is incredible from the start.

Julien appears rather uncomfortable between tracks and is very softly spoken. There is rarely interaction with the crowd, the only statement being that she “doesn’t know if it’s more awkward to be quiet or to tell a joke”. I am more than happy for the brief moments of silence between songs to reflect, so this is ok. This could come from the timidity of baring her soul to the crowd, each song being so tender and introspective. The pained cry for help in ‘Go Home’ highlights this for me: “The strung out call I make, burned down on the edge, I’m of the highway, I’m sorry for asking but please take me home.”

‘Funeral Pyre’, as well as including transcendent singing, includes use of a loop pedal nearing the end. Effectively creating a simple but layered structure almost resembling the beginnings of an Explosions In The Sky score. I am a sucker for loop pedals. But overall I am delighted the song ‘Rejoice’ is played, being one of my favourites. The line “Give me everything good and I’ll throw it away” stands out as a running theme of expressive and confessional lyrics throughout the set. It finishes with the lonely yet resilient wails of “know my name and all my hideous mistakes, I rejoice” that sends shivers through my body as the vocals again soar and resonate trough the room. You can’t help being impacted by this bare and brutally honest song.

She very quickly exits the stage after a very brief thank you, the whole performance has been mesmerising and beautifully miserable at times. She doesn’t have an extensive back catalogue yet but each of the few tracks is a crafted work of catharsis, she is definitely someone to be seen and experienced live.

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