After last year’s successful first Australian tour in support of EP Sprained Ankle, Julien Baker returns again to tour Australia, including a spot on the bill at Splendour in the Grass. Hitting Sydney’s Factory Theatre, Baker’s personal lyrics combine with her intricate guitar work to weave sonic journal entries that display the inner most thoughts of the Memphian guitarist for all to see. An ambient take on folk and alternative rock that blends 90’s trendsetters Sunny Day Real Estate and indie idols Death Cab for Cutie, with just a tinge of Bruce Springsteen mixed in. Baker’s music is for fans of sad songs and melancholy optimism.
The Factory Theatre was host to two other shows on the 20th of July, a theatre performance and a microtonal music festival, but it was easy to spot the Julien Baker fans huddling around the outdoor heaters. After momentarily losing power, right before the doors opened, staff ushered attendees to the main stage. The winter cold had kept early punters away, and at first, the room was rather bare, with almost the entire audience pressed up against the stage, waiting in anticipation.
The first act of the night was Melbourne musician June Jones. Jones has made a name in Melbourne both as a solo act and with her band Two Steps on the Water. Acoustic guitar in hand Jones took to the stage, and began by making an acknowledgement of country for the Gadigal people. Strumming away on her nylon string guitar Jones sang songs about searching for love, ice caps melting, and the difficulties of being transgender. Jones was an amazing choice in Australian talent as an opener for the rest of the night. A performance filled with emotion and grace, June Jones is truly a beautiful artist to watch.
The second support act of the night was Adam Torres: a folk guitarist from Austin. Adam has been growing quickly over the last year, after the release of his second album Pearls to Swine last September. Switching between an acoustic and electric, Torres’ fingers danced over the strings as he plucked out some amazing songs. ‘ome Beast Will Find You By Name and Morning Rain were set highlights, as was Torres’ unique sense of humour and banter between songs. Usually accompanied by a full backing band Torres sustained the energy for the entire solo performance. Singing about the chaos caused by rain in Texas, Torres’ falsetto echoed throughout the steadily filling room and engulfed the entire audience. Dressed in a red shirt, blue jeans and cream suede shoes, Torres embodied everything great about bluegrass inspired folk music of the American South. Torres teased the audience at the end of his time on stage by mentioning a Springsteen cover he hadn’t learnt, which could only have been the perfect addition for his on point set. Those who have not had a chance to check out Adam Torres need to get around to changing that.
Julien Baker might very well be my favourite artist, and from the reaction she gets when walking on stage most of the room would agree with me. By that point of the night there was little room left in the theatre, but the audience might have been best of any gig I’ve ever seen. Baker’s music isn’t the type to mosh to, but there was no pushing whatsoever. Everyone was completely respectful of each other, and they’re all there for the same thing: the music.
Julien started the set with new single Funeral Pyre, and it was immediately clear that there’s something special about her music. Not a single person was making a sound in an audience of more than 400. Baker had the entire audience sucked in and on the verge of tears as she delivered expressive performances of Blacktop and Sprained Ankle off her first EP. A set highlight came with the jaw-dropping rendition of Everybody Does, before Baker invited Torres back to the stage. Together they covered Joan Osborne’s One of Us, which according to Baker’s introduction was to win a bet with a friend. All bets aside the two guitarists delivered a show stopping performance of the song, and the simple duet fit perfectly into Baker’s set.
At this point it was plain to see that Julien Baker isn’t just an amazing performer, but also an incredibly humble one. She seemed genuinely thankful that the audience had turned up to see her, and when a fan produced a cardboard ‘bakers hat’ they’d made Baker’s face lit up.
After letting the audience know of her admiration for human kindness, Baker played a few newer songs that were incredibly well received. In Shadow Boxing Baker begs to be told she’s loved, and the audience responded. Literally.
“We love you Julien!” a crowd member called out at the end of the song.
“Oh, wow, well I’m sure I’d like you,” Came the response.
It’s the intimate nature of Baker’s music that strikes you the most, and no moment in the set exemplifies this more than the show closer Something. The personal nature of the poetic lyrics combined with the simple but beautiful ambient guitar parts create a song that pulls the entire audience into her world.
After the lights come up and people begin to leave the theatre, you’re suddenly aware that you’re in a room with hundreds of other people. That is the power of Julien Baker, to create an immensely personal experience for everyone in the room.
Those of you who missed out on Julien Baker this time around will be sure not to make the same mistake again next time she graces our shores, which will hopefully be not long after her new album. If this performance was anything to go by it will be an experience not to miss.
– Josh Mills