Baker is a force to behold.
A few songs into Julien Baker’s Portland concert, her guitar quit. The musician, who writes nakedly confessional songs, managed to say one or two words before a few members of the sold-out audience shouted out their lament. “Don’t worry,” Baker said, reassuring the crowd that the concert wouldn’t end prematurely and that she’s a professional musician, one who brings spare cords and instruments on tour.
Maybe it’s Baker’s young age or her honest songwriting, but her audiences shouldn’t underestimate the musician. After a strong debut LP, Baker has come into her own with sophomore record, Turn Out the Lights, which showcases not only her startling voice but mature lyrics about self-value, faith and fitting in (or not). Over the course of 80 minutes and 15 or so songs, Baker showcased these new tracks during an intimate performance at Portland’s Aladdin Theater.
Flanked by a spare stage set-up featuring the harsh light of naked bulbs, Baker played most of the songs completely alone, looping her guitar to create a full-bodied sound. Though a violinist accompanied her for a few songs, Baker’s talents were the true highlight of the evening. She dispensed with the suspense early, playing current singles “Appointments” and “Turn Out the Lights” early in the show. When Baker wants to emote, she can push her voice to spine-tingling levels. One criticism of the show was that Baker seemingly pulled out the stops during each and every song, head thrown back with mouth open wide. Instead of saving these crescendos for key moments, the emotional effect may have been somewhat diluted with so many peaks.
During one point in the show, Baker admitted that unscripted banter terrified her. However, she was chatty with the audience, making off-the-cuff jokes while disclosing her fears. The audience responded in kind, shouting, “I love you” and applauding heartily in between songs.
Baker switched off between electric guitar, acoustic guitar and keyboards. After playing a run of tracks from her latest album, she played some older songs from her debut, Sprained Ankle. A ghostly hum filled the theater, nearly inaudible at first, and then growing louder as these songs reached their chorus. It was the sound of the audience singing along to Baker, leaking through the spaces of her magnificent voice. Only 22 years old, Baker can incite a crowd full of people to sing along with her sometimes devastating lyrics. That’s quite a feat, pushing Baker beyond a talent to watch towards a force to behold.