“You need more pedals,” someone mentioned to Julien Baker while she came out to set up her live gear before her 9pm set on Thursday night.
“That’s the last thing I need!” the young guitarist responded with a laugh. Her pedal-board was completely full at this point in her young career. I don’t think too much of guitarists who use more than 10 pedals in a set, but Ms. Baker must be doing something right to get her hauntingly simple sound to sound the way it does. Her mix of reverbs, delays, loops, and chorus effects along with her melancholy mixture of love, sadness, and longing have earned her a strong following and loads of praise from critics and fans alike. Playing a sold-out set at Mercury Lounge as a solo performer at age twenty, is no simple feat, and those who packed the room full of body heat was treated to a great performance by a great up and coming singer-songwriter to help kick off their weekend a bit early.
The Tennessee native is currently on tour performing songs from her debut solo album Sprained Ankle, which earned Baker some well-deserved media attention and even crept onto some end of the year Best Of… lists.
There was nothing flashy about Baker’s on-stage persona, just some black jeans, a dark blue button down, a pair of Vans, and witty personality to go with her simple yet moving song material. Aside from switching between her sky blue Telecaster and a sticker-filled acoustic guitar during the set, her tour equipment, like her song catalog, was simple and very effective for the musical message she was getting across.
The ten-song set started out with the plucking of the first few notes of “Sprained Ankle,” which sounded more like melodic water droplets that accompany Baker’s warm, and innocent vocals which sound just as pure and on-point live as they do on her album. Those vocals sounded just as impressive during the descending notation sung in the lyric ‘street lamp’ in “Blacktop,” as well as in the gradual buildup of “Everybody Does.” Both of which may be the two best tracks off the album and found their way into the set early on. Baker creatively split up her set with a short and tasteful cover of Elliot Smith’s “Ballad of Big Nothing” before building up to the climax of her set with slow, uphill treading “Brittle Boned,” “Good News,” and the incredibly powerful “Go Home.” The last of which maybe carries the best song lyrics that came out of 2015:
“And make my insides clean with your kitchen bleach / But I’ve kissed enough sinks / To make up for the lovers that never loved me.”
Maybe it’s Baker’s child-like, innocent, and soft-spoken persona that allows her audience to connect with her so deeply. Maybe she’s able to translate the thoughts and memories that our once-younger selves also filled our lives with that allow ourselves to hear her tell stories that we once lived. Perhaps there is no main reason. perhaps we’re just looking for a way to justify a great performance of brilliant songwriting. In this case, there’s no justification needed, just a fantastic musician who has arrived to fill our lives with great music.
Article: Tom Shackleford