Live shows aren’t really my thing, so therefore live reviews aren’t either. You kind of need one to inspire the other, you know? I don’t know why I’ve never really gone to many gigs, maybe it’s the travel costs, or the crowds, or the lack of company, or the price of beer at the venues. It’s definitely never been the music at least, and I suppose I’ve always been content with a decent pair of headphones and a record player as an alternative. I feel like I should be changing that though. I’ve made moves to since moving to the States just over three weeks ago, and one of the things I want to do here is see more shows, go to more gigs, and I started to do that a few days back by going to my first stateside. I caught the Grehyound up to Atlanta, visiting a very likable venue named Aisle 5, to see an artist named Julien Baker, who was supported by Old Sea Brigade. I’ve written about Baker and her music once on this site, when I named her debut LP Sprained Ankle as my sixth favourite record of 2015, so I was looking forward to seeing those songs live. They didn’t disappoint.
Old Sea Brigade , the project of singer-songwriter Ben Cramer opened proceedings with twenty-five minutes or so of building alt-country songs, armed with a guitar, a keyboard and a lone kick drum put to good use. The touring two-piece filled the room with warm sounds, Cramer’s husky vocals reverberating while guitars flickered, tracks rising to euphoric finishes as the drum was introduced, adding a stomp to the final moments of Better Days. The band’s music was subtle and understated, but carried some real gravity in a venue such as Aisle 5, particularly during Sleep In The Park and Georgia, the latter of which was played live for the first time, and was a set highlight, key-led and passionately delivered. I bought the self-titled EP the morning after, and I’ve been enjoying it for a few days now, the soft, cocooning nature of the songs captured well in a live setting – actually carrying more power in person. You can check that out here via Soundcloud, I’d recommend it.
Sprained Ankle has been resonating with me for several months now, a constant musical companion, and I wasn’t sure how hearing it in this instance would prove to be. If Julien Baker  is excellent on record, she’s equally excellent live, her songs taking on a new dimension when experienced in a venue like Aisle 5. Calm fell as Baker took to the stage, tiny in stature but huge in her emotional delivery, every note rippling outwards and lacing goosebumps along my arms as her set progressed. The heavy-hitting emotion that exists on her first record in painfully poetic abundance carries over well to a live setting, and during there was a clear sense that Baker was feeling every word, transporting herself back to the time of writing as soon as songs began. The audience, myself likewise, seemed to appreciate that, falling silent immediately and remaining so, aside from the few members singing along. I found myself spellbound as Baker’s ability to captivate a listener was enhanced live, particularly during Something and Good News, the latter of which was extended slightly – a nice touch. Baker also threw in a new song I hadn’t heard before, but enjoyed regardless, leaving me looking forward to its release. In a way similar to her other material, the unnamed track left its mark, and I only wish I could remember it better. Later, set highlight Rejoice proved especially impressive, and I couldn’t help but note how Baker’s knees locked when the song reached its peak – it’s little things like that which give gravitas to a performance – although ‘performance’ unfairly suggests a degree of acting. Baker was never ‘acting’, more confessing, and across a ten song set she laid herself bare, piecing things back together between songs when she charmed with awkward onstage banter and analogies, apologising often for the sad nature of her songs. She didn’t need to do this last thing, I was there because her songs were sad, they mattered to me because of that fact, and seeing them played with such conviction only made me appreciate them, and Baker as a genuine artist, even more in this regard. She closed her set with an encore performance of Go Home, my favourite song from her LP, and I spent the majority of said sad song trying to soak it all in a poor attempt to savour some of the moment. This closer, the whole set in fact, was certainly a moment worth savouring, ending a very special show from a special talent emerging and establishing herself within the scene, Baker seemingly always on the up. With Sprained Ankle putting her well and truly on the map, gigs as great as this one will only see her fan base and reputation grow.
I’ll be seeing Julien Baker again in May at Shaky Knees Fest, Atlanta, but until and after then she has a string of shows lined up, with tickets available through her Facebook page. UK-based readers / friends, I implore you to think about making it to one of her London shows in May; I can only imagine the atmosphere at that St. Pancras Church one. Chances are you’ll be as thoroughly moved as I was.
I know these pictures suck, but so does my camera sadly.