There are few frills in the Palace Theater. Truth be told, it’s a tired, 106-year-old venue that has yet to receive a facelift to keep up with the rest of DTLA’s full throttle revitalization. But there was visual symmetry on display Thursday, where a stripped back performance by Julien Baker coalesced with the Spartan setting. It was here that Julien Baker brought her one – err, two woman show in support of 2017 LP, Turn Out the Lights.
Joined by Nashville-based violinist Camille Faulkner for about half of the show, Baker kept the overhead low. There was a house lighting rig, five standalone lightbulbs behind her, a keyboard, and a couple of amps on stage. That’s about it. Oh, and a machine gently emitting enough fog to make the proscenium look like the front cover of Divers. What better way to let the performance speak for itself?
Julien Baker’s music can be haunting, moody, or downright sad. But it hangs its hat on catharsis; a port in the storm for the melancholy. So while pain is a huge component of her musical currency, it feels that it is presented with an eye towards redemption.
And so the show began with warm, atmospheric finger picked notes from Baker’s Strat. The sonic menagerie led in to “Appointments,” mimicking the start of her new album. The attentive audience did their part in meeting the headliner halfway by providing environs for Baker’s heavy lyrics to drop with a thud.
She sang, “my heart is gonna eat itself,” “pump the vitals out of my wrist, ‘cause I’m conducting an experiment on how it feels to die,” or of waking up with pain, a sprained ankle, being in the back of an ambulance, and of “pitching through the windshield” during a car accident.
While the violent, macabre imagery she employs consistently darkens her art, the emotional redemption comes via moments when Julien Baker’s vocals shoot straight up through the sky. Particularly in single “Turn Out the Lights,” “Appointments,” and “Rejoice” where slow builds truly are given a moment to pop.
The set was rife with the earnest. During “Black Top,” a brief pause before a final chord strike elicited a “So good!” from the audience. Meanwhile, Baker’s movements were scarce and slight, leaving more opportunity for the songs to standalone rather than rely on bombast or spectacle.
As Baker took on “Televangelist” on her own, the theater was so quiet that a police car passing by on Broadway contributed something a propos to the room’s mood. Mid-song, Baker’s keys shifted gears in to an organ effect that felt like a direct tie-in to the song’s title.
Camille Faulkner’s contributions were varied in nature. She plucked her violin during the intro of “Sour Breath,” and dropped singular bassy notes in “Claws in Your Back.” Her presence on stage was understated, but complementary, and a welcome and effective addition to Baker’s minimalist show.
After closing the main set with “Something,”, Baker unceremoniously exited the stage. She did not come back. There was no encore – a fitting ending for a night touched by simplicity.
Julien Baker at Palace Theater Setlist
Turn Out the Lights
Everything That Helps You Sleep
Claws in Your Back