Julien Baker @ Red Room – Café 939 // January 23, 2016
Coming off perhaps one of the most beautifully confessional albums of the past year, Julian Baker’s debut LP, Sprained Ankle, has established the young songwriter as a brutally honest voice for the emotionally despaired. Despite the fact that most of the album exists within the sphere of reverberated guitar, reedy vocals, and a choir of ghostly coos, the live interpretation of the songs performed on January 23rd at Cafe 939 translated surprisingly more viscerally than the recorded material.
The set was ushered in with the delicate harmonics of the title track, “Sprained Ankle”, a song reflective of the melodramatic yet satirical nature consistent throughout the album. It was this push/pull relationship that existed not only lyrically but also dynamically that would briskly carry the set through the night. During certain songs such as the self-inflictive “Everybody Does”, Baker’s vocals grew from a pensive whisper to a wavering cry in a gradual build that allowed audience members to bleed their sorrows into the unified orchestra of impassioned voices. Ironically pointing to the singer’s alleged inability to communicate effectively, “Something” proved to be another high point of the set with the entire crowd enthralled with Baker’s effortless narrative of a metaphorical labyrinth in which lovers find themselves when unable to produce meaningful speech.
Given the emotive outpour throughout, Julien offered necessary breaths of air in between songs by infusing her set with moments of levity that provided a more rounded and transparent look at the woeful soul present in the music. Timidly pointing out that she was flattered that audience members had chosen to spend the night alongside her rather than the 6 billion other inhabitants of the Earth, Baker was quick to sing the praises of her supporters and did so in a more authentic way than the cliché tip of a hat to the crowd.
At a mere 20 years old, Baker has already seen more critical acclaim and reception to her inwardly eloquent music than most artists do in a decade and has handled it with nothing but humbleness and poise. It has been few and far between that I have found myself so emotionally invested in every stroke, breath, and movement of a performer as I had with Julien and that sentiment seemed to be one shared by all parties present at the show. Despite the metaphorical impairment suggested within the album title, this young Tennessee songwriter seems to have the endurance and grace to make this career a marathon rather than a sprint.
Writing by Quinn Slattery // Photos by Adam Kenny