Some artists deserve a big room to fill with their emotions, and Julia Jacklin seized that opportunity on a freezing Saturday evening at the Somerville Theatre. The venue is known as a home for independent film, but it also hosts occasional concerts in its majestic main theater, where Jacklin starred in a low-key, but highly emotional Saturday night show under a soaring painted ceiling. The Australian singer-songwriter started the night with a stirring solo rendition of “Comfort.” Her band, who all joined her for “Body,” carefully laid back as Jacklin spun a stoic story of taking control of her own life.
The group hit their collective stride with the hard-hitting “You Were Right” and the smoldering “Turn Me Down,” which featured a bold breakdown that slowly built back up into a powerful roar. Jacklin’s command of her own voice in concert is as riveting as her stories of overcoming trauma: she can seamlessly switch from gutsy, confrontational belting to a whispery, feather-light soprano that threatens to spear the listener with its profound vulnerability. Just as the beauty of Jacklin’s lyrics lie in the juxtaposition of strength and emotional openness, she was able to sound both strong as hell and absolutely unguarded, often moving between both in the course of a single song.
The solo meditation on the merits of advice, “Convention,” was carried along by delicately swooning, jazz-inflected guitar line and by some of Jacklin’s most ingenious lines (my personal being Jacklin’s matter-of-fact admission that her mediocre social standing only got her “six rows from the front”). “Good Guy” benefited from the drummer’s subtly propulsive shuffle as Jacklin floated around the guitar melody. “Don’t Know How To Keep Loving You” was fearlessly intimate live, with a searing solo delivered by her lead guitarist. Jacklin, with her eyes closed, powerfully pleaded, coaxing the complex feeling of the song out of the audience, so that we were all connected in the moment. The driving “Head Alone” sounded even better than the studio recording, and the band ripped through “Pressure to Party” with the appropriate confidence of a group playing one of the year’s best rock songs. After briefly leaving the stage, Jacklin returned alone for an encore of “Don’t Let the Kids Win.” With its resolute messages of “Don’t let your friends turn cold” and “Don’t let the time go by,” she closed the concert with a frank message that exemplified the sad, but strong mood of much of her music. That mood reverberated around the theater for a moment, just long enough for us all to recognize that she was right before we walked out into the night.