Sellersville Theater, Sellersville, PA
02/11/2020

“It’s like the cruise ship that’s under quarantine for coronavirus. But then you have all of these healthy people, and then they get coronavirus because they’re quarantined on a ship with people who have coronavirus.” I’m paraphrasing here, but this was Juliana Hatfield’s segue into her two-song encore, spliced between the sentiments “Thank you for your kindness” and “I don’t mean that in a disparaging way. I’m not explaining it right.” Hatfield was playing at the Sellersville Theater after all, a 325-seat venue located in a suburb of the suburbs, a town with beautiful sunsets and long-term bridge closures. My companion and I were among the youngest folks there and we’re in our mid-40s; looking out from the stage, this was a crowd she described as “interesting… interesting.”

But whether we were stuck with her, or she was stuck with us, everyone was presumably right where they wanted to be on this February weeknight. Opener Will Dailey played a confident hour-long set and was so enthusiastically received by the audience that I had to Google whether he was a local or not (confirmed: he is not, he’s just really that good). Juliana opened with ‘90s alt-rock classic “Everybody Loves Me But You” and purposefully gathered momentum with a few of her more rock-oriented tracks, “Everything’s for Sale” (Weird) and the buzz-heavy “Bottles and Flowers” (Only Everything), along with a cover of the Police’s “Hole in My Life.” Hatfield’s discography numbers as many albums as there were selections in her 17-song set, and while she did reach back to the ‘90s (“My Sister” greeted with the loudest cheers), the set meditated on more recent material, particularly from Weird and Pussycat.

There wasn’t much banter between songs, other than an introduction of a song’s title or an apology for a perceived fuck-up (“When I say, ‘Let’s try that again,’ I mean that I’ll try it again,” she says, lest we look askance at her backing band). But Juliana Hatfield is an introvert’s rock star, and this reticence is part of what we love. When the quaver in her voice is suddenly overtaken by her own roar, it feels like a wave of wish fulfillment. And yet the self-released holiday single “Christmas Cactus,” maybe an odd inclusion given the calendar, was an understated beauty and one of the best of the show. Keeping the melody confined to lower tones, it’s simple and mature, a still life in song.

Touring in promotion of Juliana Hatfield Sings the Police (another covers entry in her discography, following 2018’s Juliana Hatfield Sings Olivia Newton-John), the set included radio stand-bys “Can’t Stand Losing You” and “De Do Do Do, De Da Da Da.” The interpretations were fairly straight, but Juliana’s kicky vocal flourishes in the former injected a squealing restlessness into Sting’s pity party. Her treatment of Olivia Newton-John’s “Physical” was aggressive and fun, Juliana’s hips clicking from side to side in metronomic rhythm.

Hatfield ended the show with “Candy Wrappers” and “Everything Is Forgiven,” a powerful and incredibly dark song whose final lyrics are “‘Cause I’m not gonna die a victim.” That’s a tough place to land for a goodbye, and she remarked upon the song to say, “I just want the best for everybody,” before leaving the stage. The band came back for a two-song encore (The Juliana Hatfield Three’s “Feelin’ Massachusetts” and “Choose Drugs”) and the lights came up almost immediately. Mature adults were everywhere, disposing properly of their trash and exiting in a single file line. The experience felt polite if not a touch awkward, but that’s a fair trade for a low-key night in the burbs.

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