Arriving at Leaf and seeing most people seated is usually not the best sign of things to come; either there won’t be many attending the gig or people decide to sit rather than stand which slightly irritates the artist. But for Julia Holter’s first ever Liverpool show, the atmosphere was perfect. The room was full with half the people seated and half standing at the back. Candles were lit and the ever-present disco balls were glimmering. People were relaxed yet also completely engaged with the music on offer.
Support came from Sweden’s Lucrecia Dalt who, performing alone, played an interesting set of experimental and minimal music. The eerie sounds that Holter is known for are also apparent in Dalt’s songs but on an even more left-field scale. Her songs incorporated a masterful looping technique that blended seamlessly; avoiding the glitchy and sometimes troublesome slip-ups that can occur when looping numerous melodies at once. She would initially use her bass to create a groove and then continue to layer with vocals, keyboard and sound effects which blended to make immersive and at times challenging songs. Interestingly, Dalt also employed a finger-picking technique, traditionally seen when playing a guitar, on her bass which made her basslines almost melodies in themselves. For her final song Dalt was joined by Julia Holter’s band which improved her sound greatly and hinted at things to come.
Julia Holter arrives on stage dressed glamorously and with a glass of wine in hand, as if she had just arrived from a formal dinner party. Julia Holter’s first two albums were recording in her bedroom and she used midi keyboard samples for her additional instrumentation. For her latest album she was able to record in a professional studio with additional musicians and, with a touring band that consisted of a saxophonist, cello player, violinist and drummer, the extra instrumentation adds a whole new level of texture to her songs.
Recent single ‘Into the Wild’ is her first song and the additional band members really do add to the sound. It is eerie, ethereal and captivating; you feel both comfortable and uncomfortable at the same time. It also emphasises sounds on the album that might go unnoticed on first listen. Holter pauses after the song to marvel at the amount of tea that Leaf has to offer, with a member of the audience jokingly saying that all the Friday night, alcohol-induced noise downstairs was from “people drinking tea”.
Next comes the sprawling ‘Maxims I’ that seamlessly blends in with ‘Horns Surrounding Me’ which is the highlight of the performance. Challenging yet enjoyable, the songs have everyone’s full attention and the saxophone on the later song is completely mesmerising. Holter describes ‘Horns Surrounding Me’ afterwards as being about a feeling oppression that everyone is watching you, a feeling that you are being constantly chased by a marching band. A song from her previous album Ekstasis ‘Marienbad’ is played and the high fidelity that is given to the song by the additional band members gives this older song a new lease of life, of Holter blending her new sounds with her older ones. The ethereal and ambient track ‘Hello Stranger’, which is partially a Barbara Lewis cover, mellows the audience and given the venue’s general atmosphere, is a perfect moment. It is quickly broken though by the abrasive ‘Maxims II’ where her touring saxophonist plays in an almost experimental jazz mode and illustrates in these two songs the different aspects of her songs; the challenging and the soothing. She finishes on perhaps the most pop-like and upbeat song from Loud City Song ‘This is a True Heart’ and is a perfect way to finish the set on. The quality of performance was enthralling and a contender for the gig of the year. We hope to see you again soon Julia.