Gig Review: Julien Baker at Brudenell Social Club

Julien Baker. Picture: Nolan Knight

It’s been raining all day, the sun set at 4.21pm and after something of an Indian summer, it’s noticeably colder than it was the day before. Autumn is well and truly upon us, and with it comes a gentle case of the blues that befits what’s in store for us at the Brudenell Social Club this evening.

Charming and very funny, Harry Ridgway – aka Altar Hanglands – is a welcome introductory act on this dull and miserable Tuesday. His entrance is unassuming, but his songs are not – powerful in their sombre beauty, his sounds recalls the likes of Fionn Regan, intoxicating in its rich tones set against vulnerable, finger plucked acoustics. Tourniquet, his self-confessed most popular track, draws nods of appreciation and phones aloft, suggesting that despite his surprise at tonight’s early turnout, it might not be the largest crowd he’s played to for long.

As Julien Baker enters the stage, the room is so quiet that even the dull thunk of ice clacking in people’s drinks seems mildly offensive. This is highly unusual for a Brudenell crowd, but it’s a pattern that remains; punctuated only by a chorus of applause that follows each track, it is clear that tonight’s crowd are very much here to listen and appreciate.

Even to the uninitiated, one quickly understands why. Baker’s voice is soft but demands attention, each precise note dripping with a resonance that stops you in your tracks. Her honesty is startling – her new record ‘Turn Out The Lights’ explores aspects of self-doubt and poor mental health in painful detail that plays out even more empathetically in the live setting.

Opening with ‘Appointments’, the matter-of-fact anecdotes she delivers are tough to hear; “You don’t have to remind me so much how I disappoint you / Suggest that I talk to somebody again that knows how to help me get better / And ‘til then I should just try not to miss any more appointments.”

In anybody else’s hands, such sentiments might sound pitied and laborious. For Baker, it’s clear that being here tonight is therapy not just for herself, but for the members of the audience who sing quietly along with heads bowed, seeing themselves reflected in the catharsis of ‘screaming their fears into speakers’.

It’s an outing of ‘Sprained Ankle’ that finally sees the gentle audience murmur-along swell to discernable levels, providing a pretty backdrop as Baker’s voice soars. Recently covered by 00’s emo relic Dashboard Confessional, it’s a song that’s fully indicative of her appeal – full-throttle emotion set against elegantly sparse instrumentation, a reminder that there is a distinct beauty in baring all.

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