A finer venue couldn’t be imagined than London’s Union Chapel for an evening of Julien Baker‘s soft and haunting lyrical reflections on faith, relationships and growing up. Crowded by her microphones, pedal boards and instruments, she is already a tiny figure on stage, and the effect is heightened by the towering scope of the sold-out venue, with its leaning church pews and grand stained-glass windows. But small proves to be mighty, and her voice escalates to the rafters with an apt pertinence: ‘A cathedral of arching ribs, heaving out their broken hymns…’
Two years after her intimate debut ‘Sprained Ankle‘, Julien is back in the UK touring a new collection of broken hymns with her second album ‘Turn Out The Lights‘. There are notable differences between the two releases: ‘Sprained Ankle’ is raw, each note a minimalist and heart-breaking necessity; ‘Turn Out The Lights’ is lush, a deftly woven tapestry of instrumental layering.
But when performed live, many of these production differences are shrugged aside; it’s just about her voice and what she can achieve with the instruments she has before her. And it’s here where she arguably achieves the finest mixture between simplicity and richness.
Delve beneath the blankets of reverbing and looping riffs, and it’s easy to see her propensity for commanding, poetic lyrics is her greatest power. The soft-voiced host of the evening is just as honest about examining and confronting her experiences live in front of an audience as she is within her songs. Sitting down to play ‘Televangelist’, she admits that since the album release, she’s made a mistake in every performance of the song – ‘like that one’, she laughs. But ‘it’s a gift to do this every night’, because being a singer-songwriter gives her the opportunity to explore these moments and find hope in looking forward. Humble words from an ever-modest and contemplative song writer, when it’s her audience at Union Chapel who have truly heard a gift tonight.