A night of female performances took over Théâtre Fairmount last night as Common Holly, Half Waif, and headliner, Julien Baker displayed their unique musical talents to an entranced crowd. Théâtre Fairmount proved to be the perfect venue for the night, creating a close environment with the artists as its low stage allows the audience to almost come face to face with the performers. The night was characterized by quiet yet deeply powerful performances, underlined with impressive vocals and talent. It wasn’t a particularly joyful evening, since the performers delved into more emotional material, and if you’ve ever heard Julien Baker, you know her songs take a deep dive into melancholy. Basically a lot of intense sad songs that somehow make you feel good at the end of it. The audience was prepared and responded accordingly with silent attentiveness and amusement.
Sadly I was not able to arrive in time for Montreal native, Common Holly, but I arrived just in time for Half Waif. The Brooklyn band was the second show of the evening, and she did not stray too far away from the somber and melancholic theme of the night. The rhythms, beats and synths throughout her set gave life to her poetic lyrics. Half Waif’s live talent was a pleasant surprise. Nandi Rose Plunkett (vocals, keys) has astounding vocal control and depth that was fantastic to listen to in a venue where we could all appreciate the intricacies in her singing. Throughout her set she sang songs like “Know Your Body” and “Tactilian” from her 2016 record “Probable Depths”.
And finally, Julien Baker. The queen of sad songs. For such a young musician, Julien Baker’s music brings out the wisdom and pain of an old soul. A pain that brings healing to her listeners. She is quiet and at times fragile, but her songs (each one more somber than the next) turn her into this powerful and emotional force to be reckoned with. There’s a subtle magic to Julien Baker that can only truly be understood during her live sets. Baker walked on to the lonely stage that was decorated with simple black lanterns, and opened her set with “Appointments” a single released a few months ago from her upcoming record. The evening was filled with silence as the crowd reveled in her performance, but the silence was not an awkward one, it was a visceral silence that you could feel in your bones as she hauntingly recited verses that hit close to home.
Throughout her set she introduced us to new songs from her upcoming album, but also delighted us with the original sad songs like “Sprained Ankle”, “Everybody Does”, and the emotionally and at times biblical “Rejoice”, that made us fall in love with her music in the first place. Baker surprised the crowd by bringing out violinist Camille Faulkner for songs like Vessel, adding more drama and dynamics to her performance.
With songs like “Turn Out The Lights”, from her new album, her pained expression and passionate vocals showed us she was singing from the heart. Even though at first she seemed socially reluctant to engage with the crowd, as the show went on Baker’s personality slowly emerged as she engaged in brief banter, making joking remarks about the crowds “forced flattery” as someone screamed “We love you!”. Her set flowed effortlessly and ended with the strong anthem of “Something”. Julien Baker’s performance was timid yet open and sincere, committed to cautiously letting herself go to play music for us. At the end of the evening I am sure we all felt a combination of satisfaction and introspection.