REVIEW: Julien Baker’s voice soars through pain and grief in Los Angeles

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Julien Baker, Julien Baker

Photos: Kyle Kohner

LOS ANGELES — Nearly two months since releasing her stunning sophomore project, Turn Out the Lights, singer-songwriter Julien Baker graced the masses at the iconic Palace Theatre in Downtown Los Angeles on Thursday night. Per usual, Baker gifted her audience with an intensely emotional affair, as she mixed in new material from her latest release, and of course, from her groundbreaking debut Sprained Ankle, which was released only two years ago. 

It’s crazy to think that just two years ago Baker was once a budding Nashville artist; she now finds herself making waves as a headlining musician at venues such as Palace Theatre. The show was two nights after she played at The Fillmore in San Francisco.

With such vulnerable, resonant songwriting abilities, the Tennessee talent’s surge in popularity can be attributed to the pacifying approach to her lyrics as she continues to reach across all barriers. Her music is a balm for many, and she furthered her transformative image with a show that devastated the crowd with sheer melancholy, vulnerability and sentimentality.

Julien Baker, Julien Baker

Julien Baker performs at Palace Theatre in Los Angeles on Dec. 14, 2017.

As has been the case throughout her headlining tour, the 22-year-old phenom distorted her pedals straight into the hearts of many with her set’s opening performance of “Turn Out the Lights,” a heavily reverbed track that generates a cathartic stratosphere as Baker’s voice resounds and soars toward a climax of liberation. As I noted in my review of her new record back in November, there is something incredible about Baker’s willingness to allow her pain to be a simultaneously personal yet tangibly shared experience, and this song is the epitome of what this looks like.

Although Baker’s latest release was a sobering and harrowing experience through headphones, experiencing each moment on the record in a live setting with Baker in front of you gives you a reason to wake up in the morning and fight that extra battle or that festering demon. Julien Baker’s music is emotionally tumultuous but ultimately rejuvenating when experienced in a live setting.

With songs like “Appointments,” “Sprained Ankle,” “Sour Breath” and the triumphant “Rejoice” (the best moment of the night) ensuing to quell any grief and pain dwelling within her Los Angeles crowd, I was thoroughly convinced  that Julien Baker live is one of the most devastatingly beautiful performances anyone will ever experience.

With a 15-song set that was convicting, spirited, but most notably — crushingly sonorous, Baker’s transparency and willingness to relinquish her demons through her music provided emotional levity and therapeutic communion at the Palace Theater Thursday night — a profoundly memorable experience at the very least.

With the crowd’s attention undeniably Baker’s, the acts couldn’t match up. Singer-songwriter Adam Torres‘ set focused on his 2016 release, Pearls to Swine. Torres, with a performance overtly reliant on his incredible vocal abilities, helped set the stage—to a small extent—to a night defined by heartbroken moments.

Following Torres, Pinegrove’s Nandi Rose Plunkett and her synth-pop trio, Half Waif, including Zach Lavine and Adan Carlo, lifted a relatively downtrodden atmosphere with a plethora of poignant dance numbers that didn’t rise beyond synthesized, grandiose wistfulness as the band’s selling point. With that being said, Plunkett’s spirited vocal work and keyboard mastery are nice to bask under. It would all prove to be an ephemeral experience once Baker seized all apprehension.

Follow writer Kyle Kohner at Twitter.com/kylejkohner.

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