Julia Holter


On a particularly memorable trip into town on the 216 bus, and before losing me briefly in Kendals, my grandfather took me during junior-school holidays for my first exploratory visit of Manchester Cathedral and other local historical sites. Since then, and though largely unchanged physically, of course, this imposing building, now almost 600 years old, has become a regular host to popular musicians, with evensong’s psalms and hymns soundtracking load-in for bands and roadies carrying cases and amps.

For those of us who have gathered tonight, the band of Julia Holter, a native of Manchester’s twin city of Los Angeles, is as welcome as any of the others that have trodden a similar path to our modest gothic majesty on Victoria Street.  What’s more is that I cannot think of a more fitting setting in the city for Holter’s beautifully creative compositions, which always feel best heard at home in cosy rooms lit by candles, or performed live in grand, old places like here.

Opening the show, accompanied by her 12-string acoustic guitar, is Haley Fohr, whose work is released and performed under the name Circuit des Yeux. Each of her entrancing songs has sections where her vocals seem to resonate into every pocket of air in the medieval nave, emanating from the far reaches of the depths of her chest. Her instrument hypnotises with its repetitive patterns and shifting, underlying drones in a wonderfully eerie start to the evening.

When Holter arrives on stage as part of her five-piece band, even though they have travelled from “the land of the unreal” there’s a feeling that our performers might have walked into shadowy view from a nearby wood. Songs on the set list are largely plucked from last year’s Have You in My Wilderness, and if anything there’s even greater experimentation tonight than on that adventurous record. Eight giant and flower-dressed pillars loom over the audience and stage as pink and then white beams slide across the underside of the roof revealing unprecedented depths of architectural detail, albeit still grainy.

So much under the band’s spell is the audience that the introductory hushed vocals and unpredictable beat of ‘Silhouette’ are met by a silent admiration, and mostly it’s only after songs have completely finished that the polite quiet turns to whoops and excited applause as we savour every note from the well-rehearsed or otherwise mind-reading players in the band. Sometimes Holter will feel the need to guide the way delicately with a subtle gesture to violist/vocalist Dina Maccabee, like during the mournful and sighing dirge of viola, bowed bass, saxophone and choral voices in unison during ‘The Falling Age’, which is perhaps the band at its tightest.

A wistful smile on Holter’s face accompanies recent single ‘Feel You’ as she looks high and right towards the top of one of the pillars, and once the last faint echoes of encore ‘Sea Calls Me Home’ have followed a powerful and commanding sax solo and have faded into the distant rafters I have lost all sense of time and place. I’m a little taken aback to step outside, wander in the direction of Market Street and have to reacclimatise to the brightly-lit signs for ‘Selfridges’ and ‘Arndale’ after the altogether more coastal and wooded images I’d been wrapped up in a few minutes earlier.

Julia Holter  Official | Twitter | Facebook

Steve Jones

Apart from about five years in total, I've always lived in Manchester. Shame about the weather and lack of beach, but I do like it here. My all-time favourite gig would have to be The National at the Academy in about 2010, although I did get Matt Berninger's mic cable wrapped around my neck (that was a close one). My guilty pleasures include the music of Bruce Springsteen, and I also felt a bit bad for feeling such joy at seeing Counting Crows live in the early 2000s. I recommend Lifter Puller, a rather obnoxious and unpleasant-sounding band that I can't seem to get enough of, even though they are long disbanded. Amongst my Silent Radio gigs, I was blown away by John Murry. I'll let you know if anything tops that one.