Having recently opened for the likes of Belle & Sebastian, Paramore, & Ben Folds, it’s safe to say it’s been a whirlwind two years for Memphis native Julien Baker. The now 22 year old singer-songwriter was navigating your normal school/work/social life balance, pursuing a degree in secondary education and literature while self-releasing her first solo album via Bandcamp. A humble courtship by indie label 6131 lead to the proper release of Sprained Ankle back in late 2015, and ironically enough, she’s hit the ground running ever since.
Rolling Stone. The New Yorker. Pitchfork. Stereogum. The list goes on. The seemingly endless wave of universal praise and interest in Baker’s words, her story, has continued, and for good reason. Her brutally honest and deeply personal songwriting style has demanded the industry pay attention, her approach sincere yet undeniably masterful in conveying all the painfully right emotions.
Later this month, Baker begins her second chapter, as her highly-anticipated sophomore release, Turn Out the Lights, will finally see the light of day October 27th via New York indie great Matador Records. On this particular evening, Baker is on night three of her extensive US & European headlining tour in support of the new record, bringing her intensely personal live performance to The Grey Eagle in Asheville, one of the more intimate stops of the entire trek. Support included Petal, the pseudonym of Scranton, PA singer-songwriter Kiley Lotz, as well as Brooklyn based pop/electronic trio Haif Waif.
As the changeover before Baker’s set occurred, a feverish buzz of anticipation grew in the dimly lit show space. As Baker quietly took the stage and began a quick last second tune before starting, a hush fell across the room. A testament to her ability to connect with an audience quickly followed, as she stopped within the first 15 seconds of “Appointments” because she had already messed up. “It’s okay to make mistakes”, she sheepishly stated thru an embarrassed yet earnest grin, the first of many human moments this evening would contain.
Throughout the next hour and change, Baker would navigate across her relatively limited yet enthralling back catalogue, playing almost every song from Sprained Ankle, as well as the multiple singles released in the two years since. Following the whimsical & heartbreaking rendition of the title track “Sprained Ankle”, Baker seamlessly transitioned into a breathtaking cover of Manchester Orchestra’s “100 Dollars”, met with an audible “No way!” from an audience member over my right shoulder upon recognition.
The middle of the set saw Baker visit the latter half of her debut, engaging in warm and intimate small talk with the crowd between beautiful renditions of “Rejoice” and “Vessels”. As the patrons in attendance had settled into the evening with some of the more celebrated tracks of Baker’s debut, she began to try out a handful of new songs from the forthcoming LP, which had all the connectivity and emotion that fans have grown accustom to hearing. That familiar croon wafting out across the room as she brought her set to a close with the crowd pleaser “Something”, along with a brief but expected encore of “Good News”, accompanied by Kiley from Petal providing the harmony.
Getting the chance to see Julien Baker in these types of intensely intimate spaces will soon be a thing of the past, as her Matador debut is sure to expand her unique brand of Southern-tinged heartbreak to an even wider and more diverse listener base. I consider myself lucky to have found her music when I did, as it’s hard to imagine the perfect loneliness of her words drifting thru less engaging audiences. Alas, I have a hunch that Baker will continue to dazzle and impress those who have not been fortunate enough to hear her songs previously, as 2018 is poised to be her biggest year yet. Her sophomore album title, as rich with irony as her debut was, is quite the opposite of what you should do moving forward. The lights are bright, and Julien is ready for them.
Julien Baker – Saturday October 14th at The Grey Eagle in Asheville, NC
2. Funeral Pyre
3. Sprained Ankle
4. 100 Dollars (Manchester Orchestra Cover)
6. Everybody Does
7. Happy to Be Here
10. Shadow Boxing
11. Hurt Less
12. Claws In Your Back
14. Good News (featuring Kiley Lotz of Petal)