Julia Jacklin at VENUE 11/19/19
On a clear and cold November night in Vancouver music fans gradually start to shuffle into VENUE on Granville as the opening act, Christian Lee Hutson, takes the stage. Dressed in simple black pants and a black sweater, with the white collar of a dress shirt poking out the top, Hutson enters the stage with an acoustic guitar in hand and sits quietly on a seat in front of the mic. The room, about a quarter full, is hushed. Hutson begins his set with an incredibly softly sung folk ballad. The growing crowd is receptive to his gentle finger-picking style.
He speaks in a lulling murmur between songs, joking in a deadpan style with the audience. “Never heard of him,” he says quietly into the mic, and the audience meets him with laughter. Between the next few songs, he coyly entices the crowd to start mini conversations and ask questions. “How long have you been playing guitar?” someone yells. About 15 years. “What’s your favourite cereal?” Maybe Granola. Or Lucky Charms. He invites a drummer on stage to join him for a song, then a full band for another song, before ending the night solo. By the end of his set the place is packed to near-capacity, and Hutson, a quiet but charming performer, jokes with the crowd about a friend who left his band to become a building manager.
The break between acts is a short fifteen minutes, if that. When the night’s main attraction, Julia Jacklin, walks out onto the stage and approaches the mic, guitar in hand, the amassed crowd gives a loud cheer and the spotlight comes on. She doesn’t say a word to the crowd and gingerly begins to strum her guitar. From the first sung note her voice instantly pulls the audience in as she begins her set alone, slow and soft, quiet enough that you can hear her breath on the mic between words.
When the song subsides the band walks on behind her and they waste no time getting into the song “Body” from the new album Crushing. The drums and bass add some liveliness but it’s still a slow churning song. The crowd seems to be in an almost meditative state, as soft voices from the audience start to sing along in a hymn-like fashion.
When “Body” comes to an end Jacklin finally addresses the crowd, joking that she didn’t realize the audience would be so close and if she’d known she would have definitely not worn such a short skirt. The crowd gets a good laugh and the band loosens things up a bit as they jump into the uptempo “Leadlight”.
Probably the high point of the night is the extended performance of the song “Turn Me Down,” which features a quiet, solo breakdown in the middle, where the lights go down and we get a spotlight on Jacklin as she sings “Why won’t you turn me down?” over and over with growing intensity, getting louder and bigger as the band behind her joins in again. It grows to the most memorable crescendo of the night, one long-held note by Jacklin that gets the whole crowd applauding. It’s one of those moments in a performance when everyone in the audience has to stop to look at each other, as if for confirmation of its greatness.
Throughout the rest of the night, Jacklin goes through all the crowd favourites. When she sings “Head Alone” it seems the whole room is singing “I don’t want to be touched all the time. I raised my body up to be mine.”
The band closes with “Pressure to Party.” For an encore, Jacklin comes out alone, ending the show how she started it, with a one-on-one intimate brooding solo performance, as she sings the titular track from her debut album, “Don’t Let the Kids Win.”