by Michael Norton
The stage was set for Julia Holter, coming off the release of her 2018 album, Aviary at Brighton Music Hall. The stage itself, almost cluttered with instruments, seemed as though it would be difficult for an artist to traverse. The crowd, sparse before the show, stole pondering glances at the intricate setup, as if they were unsure how the elaborate sonic elegance of Holter’s work–in particular the dense, ethereal soundscapes of Aviary–could possibly be replicated in such compact space.
Before this question was answered, Jessica Moss took the stage with her violin and extensive set of pedals. Taking up her instrument, she began to play, forming mesmerizing loops and playing over them. Her second and final song, the nearly 22-minute “Particles” began with somewhat glitchy, plucky sounds and then erupted into a defiant, proud melody, before at last becoming an expression of deep longing, accompanied by Moss’s own voice. She had prefaced the song with a brief explanation of quantum entanglement–a lasting physical connection between two particles, no matter how distant. This feeling of longing and affectedness was felt throughout her piece, which Holter would later describe as “haunting.”
The crowd, still entranced by the echoes of Moss’s violin (though maybe somewhat confused by the venue’s decision to play “Hard In Da Paint” while the stage was set for Holter and her band), greeted Holter warmly as she began what would be a nearly two-hour set of songs from Aviary and her 2015 album Have You In My Wilderness. Stepping out from backstage alone for the first song, she stepped up the the keyboard nonchalantly, played a few notes, shrugging in an almost carefree manner before launching into “In Gardens’ Muteness.” Each lyric flowed gently from the stage, dripping with a emotion. The lines “Lover, you should be shivering / In wind this cold” creates a vivid sensation of pondering over the condition of another, and gives the suggestion that we often project our own feelings onto others. Following this first song, Holter’s “Aviary Band” emerged from backstage, consisting of: Dina Maccabee on violin, Sarah Belle Reid on trumpet and flugelhorn, Andrew Jones on upright bass, Tashi Wada on synth and bagpipes, and Corey Fogel on drums. The band began with “I Shall Love 1” a more energetic piece with a simple, proud declaration: “I shall love.”
Throughout the night, Holter and her band had the full attention of the audience. Each song–from the delicate strings of “Colligere” to the eerie repetition of latin lyrics on “Voce Simul”–seemed to further engage the audience in listening. One audience member to my left was grinning excitedly for almost the entire show. I found myself awed by the ability of Holter and her band to replicate the dense, intricate sounds of her record on the live stage, even embellishing each with a certain powerful emotion that enhanced the effect of her work. The live songs were, for me, even more cathartic aesthetically engaging than the recorded versions. Holter entangled the audience in Chaitius, an eight-minute maze which filled with vague yet beautiful lyrics and dazzling instrumentation. She brought them soaring to heights with energetic emotional builds like the one at the end of Silhouette, a song that effectively depicts the sensation of lingering feelings over a past love. “Sea Calls Me Home,” was a crowd favorite; the announcement of the Have You In My Wilderness cut was met with great excitement. Each song was played with enthusiasm and each performance was wildly impressive.
Holter prepared to close her set with “I Shall Love 2,” which builds from introspective musing– “Why do you squander? / Why do you hoard?” — to a a swelling, joyfully confident declaration of willingness and readiness to love. The audience however, was not ready for the show to end. Holter came out with an encore, “Betsy on the Roof” and then left the stage, having thoroughly awed the crowd. The performance had certainly been a memorable one. I look forward to Julia Holter’s future work and hope for a return to Boston on the next tour.