Julien Baker


If anyone has been following my series of ‘shit, how good are all these incredible young female songwriters at the moment’ reviews, then you’ll know this is approx. entry number 49, with previous editions featuring the likes of Phoebe Bridgers, Soccer Mommy, Florist and Let’s Eat Grandma. There’s just such a magnificent wealth of brilliant women making superb music at the moment, we have an embarrassment of riches, and it’s very much a ‘what a time to be alive’ moment in music. Tonight sees the turn of Julien Baker, ready to set her phazers to stun at a rammed Gorilla on the first truly chilly day of the autumn (Gorilla is still sweltering, naturally).

Baker is alone on stage with just a guitar, keyboard and amps for company. She is tiny (or maybe, being pretty tiny myself, I just can’t see her that well over the giants in the crowd), her tattooed arms grasping the guitar, the audience prickling with anticipation. She plays three ‘old’ songs from her debut album Sprained Ankle off the bat, easing us in with the title track, a beautiful ‘Everybody Does’ where she first lets her crystal clear voice rip, and ‘Blacktop’. The crowd love, nah adore her, with several members of the audience declaring their adoration throughout the show; Baker, enjoying the interaction with the crowd (“it’s so much better when we do this together, then it’s not all on me!”), replies to a particularly vociferous “I LOVE YOU JULIEN” with “er, I love you too, just probably not on the same level,” perhaps a reference to Baker being gay, or maybe just slightly afraid of the enthusiastic hollerer. ‘Happy To Be Here’, about “going to therapy on April Fools Day” is electric, her voice on another level as she sings “I heard there’s a fix for everything, then why not me” in such a powerful way she has to move herself back from the mic to avoid deafening us all.

The middle section sees Baker sit at her keyboard, joined by violinist Camille Faulkner, for the majority of her superb second album from last year, Turn Out The Lights. It’s almost too much to handle, watching this incredible young woman pour her soul out about depression, addiction and heartbreak to a few hundred people, sharing intimate details of her life that are hard to listen to, never mind perform, with ‘Televangelist’, ‘Shadowboxing’ and ‘Hurt Less’ all visibly reducing some of the audience to tears. She pours everything into each song, grimacing, pounding at the keys, at one point reduced to playing chords with her head near enough on her lap, it’s an intense performance – during ‘Televangelist’ she asks “am I a masochist”, and it would appear that by singing these songs night after night, then yes, yes she is. ‘Hurt Less’ has one of the saddest opening lines I’ve heard: “I used to never wear a seatbelt, because I said I didn’t care what happened/I didn’t see the point in trying to save myself”. Oooffff. If there’s one criticism of the whole night, then it’s that this section is a bit one paced, despite her being magnetic to watch it could do with a bit of a tear up to break up the piano ballads.

We get it for the finale, a stone cold stunner one-two of ‘Turn Out The Lights’, where she picks up her guitar again and finally lets rip, deep bass undercutting her hard strung guitar lines, and then the magnificent ‘Appointments’, one of the best songs of last year, saved for her send off, the crowd softly singing along with a mantra for our troubled times: “maybe it’s all gonna turn out alright/I know that it’s not, but I have to believe that it is”. There isn’t an encore here, I’m not sure we could emotionally deal with it tbh. However, it’s a curiously uplifting night, despite the weighty topics explored it’s cathartic for both Baker to sing, and for us to hear some of these things said out loud; we have to believe that it’s going to be alright, otherwise what’s the point?

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