Intensely focused quiet. A sold-out room so hushed that at times, shifting my weight from foot to foot felt intrusively noisy. I doubt Rough Trade NYC has ever experienced such attentive silence.
New York crowds can be chatty. Between sets for sure, often between songs, sometimes even during songs.
Not when Julien Baker played.
From the first notes - haunting, urgent - she captivated the room.
Applause and cheers after each song quickly returned to hushed silence. Every person was hanging on to every moment, every word, a rapt and intense attention on the lone figure onstage. Even during songs the audience knew, mouths moved, but no sound came from New York throats - the only voice belonged to the girl from Memphis.
Baker made her way through the songs on her debut album, Sprained Ankle, along with a new track she’d recently written. Within the stellar set, standout performances included “Sprained Ankle,” “Something,” and “Everybody Does.”
She sings with an intensity that belies her small frame, shares her songs with an emotion that still feels fresh and raw, although she’s sung these words many times before - words that suggest a thoughtfulness and maturity far beyond her 20 years.
When she walked offstage after the last song, the silence broke. The cheers and chanting built into a crescendo when, after a minute or two, Julien poked her head around the side of the stage. She flashed a grin, and then walked back onstage to play an encore.
“I’ve got one more song for you,” she told the expectant crowd.
“Play TWO more!” A shout from the back.
A wry smile onstage, followed by “I’ve got a limited catalogue, you guys.”
And with that, she tore into her final song of the night.
My favorite music is raw and urgent and honest. Julien Baker’s songs are all the above (and, therefore, now favorites of mine). They draw you in. Give you chills. Kick your heart and feelings around in the best way.
She may only have one album out now, but I can’t wait to see where the rest of her career takes her. I have a feeling she’s got a big year ahead of her.