Julien Baker and friends create a contemplative community at Union Transfer

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Julien Baker | Photo by: Ellen Miller | ellencm.com
Julien Baker | Photo by Ellen Miller for WXPN | ellencm.com

There’s a word that’s often used to describe Julien Baker‘s music: devastating. I think I’ve seen it in almost every review and feature surrounding the release of Baker’s new album Turn Out the Lights; I think I’ve even used it myself. And it’s true, listening to Baker’s songs sometimes verges on painful — but in the most achingly beautiful way. From the Tennessee songwriter’s 2015 debut Sprained Ankle to the just-released Turn Out the Lights, Baker’s music is quiet but powerful, sparse but resonant, and sad in a way that makes it just about impossible to stop listening.

The heart-aching melancholy of Julien Baker may beg a quiet solo listen to her recordings (especially when unpacking the rich layers of the new album), but in a live setting, any sense of despondence that may accompany Baker’s music dissipates, replaced by an overwhelming sense of community. The persistent feeling of “we’re all sharing this special moment together” remained constant throughout Julien Baker’s headlining show at Union Transfer last night, and was shared not just by the audience but by all three sets of performers onstage.

Petal | Photo by: Ellen Miller | ellencm.com
Petal | Photo by Ellen Miller for WXPN | ellencm.com

A solo performance by Petal, the project of Scranton’s Kiley Lotz, opened the show with songs from recent EP Comfort as well as 2015’s Shame. Petal’s stunningly soft yet powerful set brought a hush over the crowd that remained even when the volume intensified during a set from experimental synth-pop outfit Half Waif (who hinted at a new album in the works). Both Lotz and Half Waif’s Nandi Rose Plunkett took time out of their sets to remark on how much the tour, which wrapped up last night, has meant to them, reflecting on the empowering all-women lineup and the close-knit group of friends they’ve become and sharing awestruck praise of each others’ talents.

Half Waif | Photo by: Ellen Miller | ellencm.com
Half Waif | Photo by Ellen Miller for WXPN | ellencm.com

Plunkett wrote recently in a Talkhouse review of Baker’s Turn Out the Lights that “anyone who has seen Julien perform live knows that her music is built to resonate in this kind of endless-sounding chamber.” The full reach of Baker’s music became immediately clear when she entered the stage, filling the space with her hushed yet expansive sound. Though Baker was joined only by a violinist for a few songs, the magnitude of her presence was felt by the rapt audience, who took in the new songs with quiet wonder and sang along softly with some older favorites. Baker’s music may be a bit devastating at its core, but when it resonates among a packed house of shared appreciators, it becomes a thing of joy rather than sadness, something to absorb and savor and be endlessly thankful for.

Julien Baker | Photo by: Ellen Miller | ellencm.com
Julien Baker, Half Waif and Petal | Photo by Ellen Miller for WXPN | ellencm.com

Check out photos from the show below.

Setlist
Appointments
Sprained Ankle
Vessels
Sour Breath
Blacktop
Everybody Does
Turn Out the Lights
Rejoice
Hurt Less
Claws in Your Back
Go Home
Something

Encore:
Good News

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