Julien Baker + Phoebe Bridgers + Lucy Dacus
11.25.18 | Crystal Ballroom | Portland
Review by Camille Germain | Photos by Marissa Bowen
On November 25 the Crystal Ballroom was a completely silent room cut through with crisp vocals bouncing off of the tall ceilings. This tour with Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus is a hopeful reflection on modern indie music that hits you with honest and raw emotions. Each of these musicians has their own style, but when joining together, fluidly compliment one another. After releasing their first EP as boygenius, these three talented artists presented their own sets before coming onto stage together as band. This show was both a new beginning for a group of artists and a showcase of individual performance.
At first I was in a room split in two: 21 and up on on the the right half, set away from the stage and under 21 lined up on the left in front of the stage. The Crystal Ballroom felt separate, until the music came on. Lucy Dacus walked onto the stage and in a quick moment everything became cohesive. Set with a small backing band and low light, Dacus started in with her literary-esque lyrics that flow smoothly with her easy-to-listen voice. Her way with words wraps around each song and gives a gentle invitation to her perspective. She released her sophomore album this year, which was met with absolute applause. In a review of Historian from Pitchfork she is described as having “a warm, sonorous voice, the kind of voice that rings out like a bugle over dialed-up amps, the kind of voice that can lull you into feeling safe even when she’s singing about heartbreak, abjection, and death.” Her voice is very clear and purposeful. And that is only part of this woman’s talents! She has precise rhythm that carries her dark lyrics almost effortlessly. Seeing her live illustrated how skilled she truly is; how quirky too. At a break in her songs she let out a quiet laugh and said “What’s up? Not much...” the audience responded with a laugh, knowing she doesn’t do well with jokes.
Directly after Lucy Dacus left the stage we were greeted with Phoebe Bridgers, whose coy smile made you feel anticipation to hear what she had to say. And when her music started in, we listened. Her mic stand was lined with white string lights, which gently illuminated her face. The entire room watched in awe as she sung out, holding nothing back. Bridgers had a full backing band who helped to elevate her sound, adding fullness and balancing the soft notes perfectly. Looking around, I saw some of my audience neighbors’ eyes glistening with the start of tears. And after a few songs, Bridgers looked up and said, “I'm going to lighten the mood and talk about domestic violence. But no, seriously..” and of course everyone in the audience knew she was not going to lighten the mood. But that is exactly what we wanted: introspection projected to us by an emotive artist. On stage, Phoebe Bridgers comes to life. Her music that is very specific, pulls the audience in and makes it their stories too. Hearing her live made her music even more encompassing.
The third act, Julien Baker, was the main course for the night. Stripped back with no production lights at first, Baker started in with her and one violinist. The resonance of her voice enveloped the room, filling every pocket of it. The simple echoes of her voice and guitar kept the crowd frozen. Baker’s style is almost spiritual with how much she puts herself into it. She starts of with a gradual build then delivers a pivotal belt, both vocally and instrumentally. Her precise picking of her guitar was like an outward heartbeat that everyone could feel. She played a good variety of music from both of her albums, but the focus was on her latest album Turn Out the Lights. The style of her somber music leaves context almost open-ended so her audience can find their own meaning. She gives a voice to pain that many of us feel, but do not know how to express. What is magical about this ‘sad-girl music’ is that it is honest and relatable. She is intentional with every aspect of her music, and it shows. Though Julien Baker is well-known, she still remains modest and authentic. After a couple of her songs she said “You all could be doing anything with your night, but you are here. This is a fact not lost on me,” showing her gratitude for the room full of people.
When Julien Baker left the stage, it stayed dark and the room began chattering. Would we be granted the pleasure of a boygenius performance? Are they simply done? The three uniquely talented artists came back out, all wearing matching black blazers with stars and their individual initials on them. Their performance of boygenius was a combination of three acts coming together as a whole. Though they all have specific styles, their voices and songwriting act as a beautiful harmonious exploration of sadness. They played their new EP boygenius through its entirety (six songs) and a couple covers thrown in. I cannot say I have seen a show as unique as this compilation. These ladies know how to perform and make it an experience. This EP is not just about three talented musicians being all women in the indie scene, it’s about three talented musicians coming together as musicians writing powerful songs. It illustrates that instead of being in competition, we can compliment and work together. And if they were men, we wouldn’t have to keep writing this or reading it. It’s beautiful music, period. And if you haven’t listened to it yet, go do it!