It was a rainy night, edging on fall-weather in Chicago, perfect for staying indoors and surrounding yourself with close friends and listening to one of the biggest names in indie music. This past Thursday, the sensational Julien Baker headlined a House of Vans “Summer House Party” at their skate space in the West Loop. In their summer concert series, the House of Vans essentially renovates their ramp-filled warehouse into an art installation; and it is all open to the public!
For her curated set, Julien chose Macseal and Wye Oak to warm up the dampened and cold crowd. The fresh-faced frontmen of pop-punk band Macseal certainly differed from the upcoming artists. Nonetheless, they simulated the audience into a matured Warped Tour atmosphere. The group’s blazing bass riffs, emo lyrics, and the fast-tempo drums delivered on their promise to liven up the room.
Next up was the charming indie rock Baltimore duo Wye Oak. Singer/guitarist Jess Wasner and drummer/guitarist Andy Stack brought a whole new layer to the night. Long-time fans danced and sang along with Jess while newbies were introduced to their experimental sounds. The majority of their set consisted of tracks from Wye Oak’s electric and sonic 2018 album The Louder I Call, The Faster it Runs.
By the end of the night, the audience had doubled in size and they were all eager for Julien grace the stage. Julien’s name is prominent in the indie songwriter community. Not only for her participation in the critically-acclaimed group boygenius later last year, but for her chilling and introspective solo work. Both of her LPs, Sprained Ankle (2015) and Turn Out the Lights (2017), are love letters to herself and to the people who have entered and exited her life. Her songwriting additionally addresses addiction, depression, grief, and self-acceptance.
Baker started out her set with “Appointments,” a popular track from Turn Out the Lights. The House of Vans stood still when she belted out the tear-ridden words: “You don’t have to remind me so much / How I disappoint you.” Outside the venue, the rain came down harder, almost acting as another instrument alongside Baker’s voice and guitar. It was equally impressive how Baker managed the number of bass pedals and sheer amount of work involved onstage alone.
The setlist continued a couple songs further into her 2015 album with the self-titled track “Sprained Ankle.” Her voice and lyricism are like a stained glass window. Each note reveals a different memory and facet, and when the light shines through, the room just bursts with color and vibrancy. For those 13 songs, Baker’s lived experiences resounded with many of the audiences’ struggles, and it was simply beautiful. Although she did not select either of the songs from her two-track Record Store Day release, the rest of the evening unfolded into more deep cuts and poetic telltales. At times, she was joined by a violinist, which evoked a fragile quality that adhered to the sounds around it. In the last two songs, the room was drawn into the heaviness and intimacy of the performance. Baker finished off the night with a true Memphis heartbreak ballad, “Something,” which is ultimately about the violence of feeling alone.
Once the lights went up and the beer stopped flowing, the crowd slowly filed out of the eclectic venue. The rain felt comforting somehow, and Baker’s voice played back in my head like a lullaby for the long and inspiring night.
- Allison Lapinski
Photos by Paul Quinn