Julia Holter - The Glee Club, Birmingham
During a recent BBC interview, an agitated Bradford Cox from Deerhunter was on the verge of naming acts who pre-record their complicated studio work for easy replication to a live environment. We can be sure Los Angeles's genre spanning, classically trained, Julia Holter was never considered for Cox's list.
Touring to support her current album Have You in My Wilderness, Holter’s set doesn't neglect her earlier more experimental work. Wearing a sparkling shirt with matching scarf, Holter's accompanied by her keyboard, and backed by a band inclduing: upright bass, viola, drums, and a sound engineer whose name-checking indicated the onerous task of, manually, replicating her studio work in this live environment.
Despite the technical complexities, Holter’s angsty but warm vocals with her unsettling but relatable lyrics – all essential emotional drivers of her work – take centre stage. Each song is allowed a brief synopsis, sometimes tangible - 'Horns Surrounding Me' as a precise document of her third party encounter with paparazzi - and sometimes less so - "It's about, I don't know what it's about, finding nature... interpret how you like!" for 'Into the Green Wild'.
Other songs required less synopsis; 'Everytime Boots' delivered imagery of Charlie Chaplin's Tramp going about his business, a song which Holter endearingly lost herself in as much as her more plaintive offerings. Holter described 'Lucette Stranded on the Island' with "It's about being murdered on an island", but some of the audience, not for the only time, wondered if despite the song's title the glint its performer's eyes was giving her away.
An almost capacity venue becomes increasingly enthusiastic in its appreciation of Holter in-between songs and in response to her outfit-matching sparkling, but dry, wit. This dry wit was perhaps knowingly playful, acts often inform Birmingham audiences, "You're so quiet!" but Holter's reconfigured, "You're such great listeners, it means a lot!" meant the audience leave satisfied with their contribution to the night's proceedings.
Holter closed her pre-encore set with the disjointed 'Vasquez', her gaze conducting both her bassist's and violist's solos, forming the centrepoint of a three way trancelike connection with her audience. Allowing time for the audience to recover, the band returned after the short interval for the more ordered 'Betsy on the Roof', before the rousing finale 'Sea Calls Me Home', which featured Holter's own whistling accompaniment.
Holter’s musical breadth and emotional depth often belie her whimsical anecdotes and easy nature. Heartfelt and complicated, but accessible, it's music passionately delivered to an audience under her thrall. Please come back soon.
In the Green Wild
Horns Surrounding Me
This is a True Heart
Lucette Stranded on the Island
Have You in My Wilderness
Betsy on the Roof
Sea Calls Me Home
Words and images from the show by Jonathan Tranter