The first time I saw Julien Baker, it was at SXSW in 2016, in an actual church. If her set was at all what church was ever really like, I might have actually gone more than when I was forced to. Thursday night at the Palace Theater in downtown LA, Baker proved that she can turn any venue into a spiritual place.
Playing a mix of songs from her 2017 sophomore full-length record Turn Out The Lights as well as songs from her amazing debut record Sprained Ankle, Baker had the assembled crowd silent in their seats for over an hour. Sometimes, the only noises you could hear emanating from ticket buyers were sobs as Baker’s gut wrenching catalog of songs rendered them unable to hold their feelings inside.
Baker kicked off the set with “Appointments”, one of the standout tracks from her new record. The set maintained that aura of vulnerability that she captured on the opening track. Baker was joined on stage by violinist Camille Faulkner for a number of songs, beginning with the magnificent “Sour Breath”, adding even more depth to Baker’s songs.
Baker preceded “Rejoice” with the story about how the song is about being grateful for all the things life throws at you, even the really difficult stuff that can feel overwhelming. It added context to Baker screaming “But I think there’s a god and he hears either way when I rejoice and complain” at the top of her lungs. You could feel the hairs raising on everyone’s arms.
Baker closed out her set with the one-two stomach punch of “Go Home” — the last track of her debut album — and “Something” — my favorite song from that record. It was one of those shows that stuck with you the whole car ride home, and it was easy to lose yourself in your thoughts. Julien Baker has perfected writing agonizingly relatable songs in a way I haven’t seen since Elliott Smith — and she’s only going to grow.
Photos by Tim Aarons