Julien Baker is on tour in support of her excellent second album, and first for Matador, Turn Out the Lights. She celebrated the day of its release (Friday, 10/27) by playing the beautiful Times Square theater Town Hall. After taking the stage to thunderous applause and playing two new songs off Turn Out the Lights, "Appointments" and "Happy to Be Here," Julien hearkened back to her first NYC show, in 2015 at Cake Shop (RIP), with a song she played there as well, "Sprained Ankle." It's clear how far she's come since then: her voice and guitar have long held the power to silence growing crowds in ever expanding rooms, as I've seen her do from sets opening for The National side project EL VY to headlining Mercury Lounge and Bowery Ballroom, and even quieting a packed house at an outdoor BV SXSW day party at Cheer Up Charlies. Town Hall was not only Julien's largest NYC show to date, though - it was also my first time seeing her at a seated venue, and my first time seeing her add keyboard and violin to her live set. The violin came courtesy of Camille Faulkner, who also added strings to the songs' recordings; Julien played the keys herself, slinging her guitar behind her back or putting it down entirely.
Part of Julien Baker's appeal is the raw elemental sadness of her music; especially live, devoid of instrumentation like drums or bass to hide behind, her lyrics are front and center. "Sprained Ankle," off her 2015 album of the same name, begins with the telling line, "wish I could write songs about anything other than death." It's not entirely true; Julien's lyrics also deal with addiction, depression, and struggles with faith. Increasingly on Turn Out the Lights, they also approach the struggles of recovery: keeping appointments, going to meetings where you don't believe they're really as happy to see you as they say, reckoning with the things you've done and the overwhelming idea of a lover or higher power who could still love you in spite of them. Backed by haunting violin, Julien's voice has never sounded so powerful, or so able to cut right to the core. Live, she frequently starts off songs hushed and almost whispery, holding back the full power of her voice for the bridge and chorus when at times she would take a step back from the mic as not to overwhelm it entirely, like on "Sour Breath," where her final "the harder I swim the faster I sink," reverberated through the room.
Julien spoke only a little between songs; what she did say was gracious, humble, candid, and wise. "Look what incredible, amazing things can happen when you're honest about the parts of you that are broken," she said before starting "Everybody Does." The crowd clapped along, hesitantly at first, but they made it through the whole song. Julien seemed amazed; it was the first time, she said, an audience had clapped consistently through one of her songs before. Later in the set, "Something" got the biggest reception yet of the whole night, with people audibly singing along.
For an encore, Julien brought out Kiley Lotz of Petal and Nandi Rose Plunkett of Half Waif, her opening bands. Gathered around a single mic, with Julien strumming an acoustic guitar and Camille playing violin, they did a stirring rendition of Sprained Ankle song "Good News," with Kiley and Nandi's voices joining Julien's in unearthly harmonies. All three artists mentioned onstage how much fellowship they had found in this touring package, and their onstage collaboration was undeniable proof. After that Julien was brought out a cake, with candles, in honor of the release of Turn Out the Lights. Watch a video of "Good News," cake presentation included, in the video below.
Petal started off the night solo and wearing a birthday hat. She played a few songs from her new 7", Comfort, including a cover of Fleetwood Mac's "Silver Springs," and dedicated "I'm Sorry" to Julien. After her set came Half Waif, who mentioned they were working on a new record. The new song they played from it, "Lavender Burning," was a set standout. While it lacked some of the electronic instrumentation and multi-tracked vocals that added texture to their other songs, it gained resonance by being direct and stark, with only Nandi's keyboard and voice. See pictures from Friday's show in the gallery above.
Julien Baker plays another, smaller NYC show on Monday October 30 at Rough Trade that is followed by a Q&A, and you can get in by buying her album. More details HERE. Meanwhile, Julien's tour continues through December, including more dates with Half Waif and Petal, and others with David Bazan.
Following the Town Hall show, Julien stopped by "CBS This Morning" to make her network televsion debut on Saturday (10/28). She played three songs off of Turn Out the Lights, "Appointments," "Televangelist," and the album's title track which you can watch below.
Setlist: Julien Baker @ Town Hall, 10/27/2017
Happy To Be Here
Everything That Helps You Sleep
Turn Out the Lights
Claws in Your Back
photos by Chelsea Pineda