REVIEW: What You Do See | A Night with Julien Baker at Somerville Theatre

I’m not crying, you’re crying. Wait – we’re both crying? Sick.

Julien Baker, Half Waif, and Petal played the Somerville Theatre last Saturday as part of Baker’s aptly named ‘Turn Out the Lights’ Tour. The balm of great storytelling was at the heart of the night. 

Petal kicked things off with a solo set; Kiley Lotz accompanied herself on guitar and had no shortage of appreciation, both for the audience and lineup. The sold out theatre was in rapt attention – the bare bones approach coupled with raw emotion was a more than appropriate introduction to the night.

Sharing multiple members of Plunkett’s project with Pinegrove has brought the addition of Robin Baytas on drums but the switch has been relatively seamless. There is no shortage in complexity of arrangement for the group, and Baytas is already proving themselves adept at the live and preprogrammed, a crucial element to the group’s sound.

The band has also added several more elements of the electronic, best demonstrated in the transition between their two closing tracks, “Tactilian” and “Cerulean.” Layers of harmony and elements of the symphonic were added to their live mixes but new additions to their set include more than just retinkering – Plunkett performed a track off of Half Waif’s upcoming release, “Lavender Burning,” a haunting ballad that deals with the pain of nostalgia and fear of the future. Plunkett’s songwriting strength is often in the complex and intricate layers she builds around often atypical chord progressions but the stripped back song felt like a breath of sweet, perfumed air.

When it was time for Baker’s set, there was a wave of tears released in the audience but there was no dwelling in pain. Although she is able to wrap the personal up in the universal, the strongest element of Baker’s storytelling may be the immediate catharsis of it. The acknowledgement of flaw, fear, and self-doubt is enough to face the reality.

Baker’s voice is highly adept – her live vocals include advanced microphone techniques, controlled tone and breaks, and absolutely no strain. Although we lose some of the harmonies that often cause shivers in recordings, the purity and heartbreak are still there. Baker alternated between acoustic guitar and piano throughout the night and brought along Camille Faulkner to accompany her on violin. The new tracks resonated deeply despite the release being so soon to the show date – the title track and the particularly heartbreaking “Claws in Your Back” were standouts of the night.

Closing the night by bringing out Plunkett and Lotz to lead the room in singing “Good News” guaranteed that this show would be etched into the mind of everyone present for good.

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