Julien Baker’s set at the Brudenell Social Club, unsurprisingly, proved itself to be one of the most intimate and powerful performances of recent times. Her new album ‘Turn Out the Lights’ is sparse in terms of its instrumentation and arrangements (mostly just Baker on guitar, vocals and keyboards) but densely powerful, and this is what Julien Baker brings tonight; herself and her songs.
Without addressing the audience, Baker quietly opens her set with ‘Appointments’ by layering lush reverberated guitar parts; the room is so quiet that even from the back you can hear the click of her guitar pedals. The crowd are immensely attentive, to the point where Baker comments several times on how strangely silent it is.
Throughout the set, Baker sings somewhat off-mic, as if she’s scared that raising her voice will be too loud in the quiet atmosphere; the closing cry of ‘Sour Breath’ (“The harder I swim, the faster I sink”) is completely off-mic but is all the more vulnerable because of it. Early in the set, we’re treated to a cover of Manchester Orchestra’s ‘100 Dollars’, after which Julien explains is a song that she plays when she gets nervous because “it only has three chords,” before observing that “I can see all of you in great detail”.
‘Sprained Ankle’ from the album of the same title has everyone singing along, though it is almost more of a collective hum so as not to intrude. ‘Hurt Less’ sees Baker at the piano singing of her changed relationship with wearing seatbelts in cars, followed by ‘Televangelist’. ‘Turn Out the Lights’ builds from a gentle, arpeggiated pattern to an overdriven, whirling powerhouse as Baker smashes out the final part of the song at full capacity. Having already profusely thanked the audience in humble fashion for giving her the opportunity to play her songs for a living, Baker quietly announces the last song ‘Something’ which ensues in a final collective singalong moment – “I know I meant nothing, nothing to you / But I thought I meant something, something, something”.
This is one of the purest and most exposed performances I have had the privilege to witness. Pyro and special effects have their place at concerts, but Julien Baker playing the piano with nothing but a disco ball lighting the room around her is about as magical as it gets.
View the full photo gallery from the show, below:
The new album ‘Turn Out the Lights’ is out now via Matador Records – and is available to purchase on various formats here.
All live photos credited to Tom Saunders.