By Joel Hines
According to my best estimates, I have spent more than a day of my life listening to Sprained Ankle. The songs of melancholy, loneliness, and loss that comprise Julien Baker’s critically acclaimed 2015 debut album have carved out a permanent residence in my mind. Finally seeing her was a thrilling, cathartic experience, and hearing songs which have such personal significance to me performed live was – in a word – unforgettable.
In performing her signature blend of slow-tempoed indie rock and folk, Baker switched between a piano, an electric guitar and an acoustic – occasionally using a sampler for additional guitar parts. The minimalist instrumentation used in her performance sounded nearly identical to that of her studio recordings. However, Baker’s voice is even more raw and passionate on stage than in recordings, causing every word to sound all the more genuine and heartbreaking.
In addition to seven songs from Sprained Ankle, Baker played six songs from her forthcoming sophomore album Turn Out The Lights (released October 27th), including its title track, which was easily the show’s highlight. Featuring a slow buildup, “Turn Out The Lights” builds to a crescendo which includes Baker’s most cathartic vocal performance, as well as the heaviest and most distorted guitar work in her discography. Baker commanded a riveting stage presence without the use of gimmicks, forgoing elaborate lighting arrangements in favor of five rustic lamps placed around the stage. Her poignant lyrics and achingly beautiful guitar work took precedent over extravagant on-stage antics and choreography – a more elaborate performance would have almost certainly diluted the immense emotional weight of Baker’s music. Her performance was a time of introspection, reflection, and catharsis – and one I certainly won’t forget.