Let’s be honest, Julien Baker is not the artist you would expect to schedule a concert on Halloween weekend. Her gentle, permissive voice and sensitive, brooding lyrics shatter emotional walls in a fashion that’s anything but ghostly and mysterious. In fact, many would consider her style delicate and depressing. At the same time however, that dimmed melancholy unexpectedly proved to be as eerie and chilling as a live performance gets. This past Saturday, October 28th, Julien Baker and her opening acts collectively wowed the Somerville Theater with a taste of ominous captivation I personally hadn’t seen yet throughout 2017.
The concert began with the surprise inclusion of Kiley Lotz’s musical project Petal. Lotz’s soft falsetto set the stage with a deeply moving act of introspection, capped off by a fantastic cover of Fleetwood Mac’s “Silver Springs” that did Rumours a greater justice than most Fleetwood covers could. Petal was followed by Half Waif, the side project of Pinegrove members Nandi Rose Plunkett (vocals) and Adan Carlo Feliciano (bass). Their use of a noticeably synthetic drum machine was a bit off-putting, but Plunkett and Feliciano picked up the slack with a bass-driven, entertainingly erratic display that kept audiences consistently mystified.
The openers alone were worth the unjustifiably low amount of money spent on this concert, but Julien Baker made sure to sprinkle extra emphasis on that baseless price tag. Her uncertain temperament resembled that of a nameless curtain-raiser, but her conduct led the audience to a state of pure awe. That waning strength was defined about halfway through the set when Baker shyly took an aside and spoke to the crowd as if to justify her performance’s grace to her own conscience. She confessed in a tone slightly higher than a whisper yet lower than a normal inflection that, “Every night I’ve made a mistake, and I will continue making mistakes every night for the rest of my life…because I’m human. We’re all human, and that’s what a lot of these songs are about.”
Baker was right. Song after song, listeners began questioning and subsequently justifying why life’s beauty is defined by its low points just as much its high points. The concert’s coup de grâce came when Baker brought out both Petal and Half Waif’s lead singer Nandi Rose Plunkett to sing along for the final number. Before beginning, Baker stepped up to the mic and softly said “It’s always better to have more voices, and lately we’ve been doing this thing where we sing with you guys and not at you.” Baker then took a step back, and started singing “Good News,” an arguable B-side from her debut 2015 album Sprained ankle. Slowly but surely, the crowd started to speak up as collective choir that was more of a unified croon than a forced shout. The appreciative ensemble was one of the most marvelously unexpected musical occurences most audience members had experienced in a while, and as humble as she was, I think Julien Baker knew it.
Favorite live tracks: Silver Springs (Petal’s Fleetwood Mac cover), Sprained Ankle, Something, Blacktop, Appointments