A certain sadness
Julien Baker brought her devastating music to Eagle Rock last week. | Photo courtesy of Alexa Antonelli
Music creates sacred spaces. Amidst tens of thousands of screaming people in the Coachella desert, I once heard Jack White tell the crowd that music was undeniably sacred. I also had the luxury of seeing a band like Pinegrove years before their Pitchfork-approved debut, in a room the size of my dorm with maybe 30 other people. Both of these events created a sacred space, even if they existed on both ends of the spectrum.
POWER TO CONNECT
Julien Baker exceeds by creating sacred spaces. Her flawless debut “Sprained Ankle” is testament to how she can weave a narrative and effortlessly put the listener at the forefront. Baker tells stories of addiction, overdose and existentialism armed with only a guitar and an unrivaled vocal power. The 20-year-old can absolutely silence a room with the subtleties of her guitar playing, and the sheer emotional gravity of her confessional lyrics.
If you have not seen a show at The Center for the Performing Arts at Eagle Rock, do it. This venue has the power to connect you with artists in ways other venues rarely have, and this was devastatingly important for seeing Julien Baker live. I left that show in silence, genuinely affected by the stories that Baker tells. This audience had a rare reverence. Phones were stowed away in pockets and everyone stood perfectly still, entranced in the quiet and heartbreaking moments that Baker created.
Her prowess as a guitar player is criminally underrated. If the record sounds simplistic to you, that can be attributed to studio layering. Onstage, Baker recreates these textures with a single guitar and loop pedal, which is so inherently stressful in a live setting. She effortlessly laid down backing rhythm tracks and played leads over them, exuding a warmth unparalleled by anyone I have seen in recent memory.
All of this is of course secondary to Baker’s absolute force of a voice. She sings with a meekness and a power all her own. “And I just let the silence swallow me up / The ring in my ears tastes like blood / Asking aloud why you’re leaving / But the pavement won’t answer me.” These words come from her track “Something,” and are a perfect example of what that evening felt like. It is impossible to not feel the pain in her voice, to feel empathy for the stark bravery it takes to tell these stories live.
SUBTLE, ACHING SADNESS
Truthfully I am still sorting through so much after that show. It reminds me of seeing Deafheaven last year. I left that show dehydrated and a crying wreck, but I left Julien Baker with a subtle, aching sadness. Baker creates a space that, for the hour that she is onstage, you have to live in. You feel a fraction of what she felt when she wrote these songs, but that is enough to leave a mark.