Julien Baker live in Nashville: a fierce, cathartic full-band rebirth

March 25, Analog: the singer-songwriter proves herself a secret shredder, bringing new album ‘Little Oblivions’ to life and reimagining older material

“Be warned – we’re a post-rock band now,” Julien Baker remarked when announcing her first full-length performance with her new group, a gig recorded at Nashville’s Analog venue. Across the past five years, the singer-songwriter has built up a reputation as a devastating but delicate live performer. Performing solo and using loop pedals to place reverb-laden guitar lines atop one another, Baker could captivate rooms on her own, harnessing emotional power through minimalism.

Third album ‘Little Oblivions’, released last month via Matador, saw her sound swell with help from added instrumentation and a chunkier full-band sound, and this evolution is completed at tonight’s show.

She’s joined by pummelling drums, airy synths and flourishes from a second guitar while Baker herself switches between electric and acoustic guitars and piano; the extra textures bring welcome changes of pace to the singer’s usual set-up, which previously hinged on a few repeated – if enthralling – tricks.

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Some of the most devastating lines from ‘Little Oblivions’ (Heatwave’s “I’ll wrap Orion’s Belt around my neck and kick the chair out”; Relative Fiction’s “If I didn’t have a mean bone in my body / I’d still find some other way to cause you pain”) cut even deeper when performed live. Their impact is bracing even through a laptop screen; imagine what it’ll be like in full concert halls.

While parts of ‘Little Oblivions’ are restrained in their instrumentation, almost every rendition here is given a swirling, near-psychedelic outro that presents a newly formed band already confident enough to let their hair down. It comes to a head at the apex of closer ‘Ziptie’, which concludes with a breakdown of blackened post-rock verging on metal, Baker harking back to her teenage years in hardcore bands in Tennessee as she head-bangs.

While it’s satisfying to hear the highlights from ‘Little Oblivions’ recreated live, the show’s most intriguing moment comes with the reimagining of a highlight from Baker’s back catalogue. Halfway through the set, the title track from 2017 album ‘Turn Out The Lights’ finally undergoes the wall-of-sound finale it’s been crying out for. The new, beefed-up version sends the song into the stratosphere.

Ending in an avalanche of guitar and drums, the show presents a fresh sonic identity for a singer fit for festival main stages, Julien Baker ready to take it on the road in a post-pandemic world. Right on time, a commenter in the live chat alongside the performance pops up: “This is what they meant when they said post-rock huh?”

Julien Baker
Julien Baker performing at Analog Nashville. Credit: Austin Peters.

Julien Baker played:

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‘Faith Healer’

‘Heatwave’

‘Favor’

‘Relative Fiction’

‘Highlight Reel’

‘Ringside’

‘Turn Out The Lights’

‘Tokyo’

‘Bloodshot’

‘Song In E’

‘Hardline’

‘Ziptie’

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