An evening with Julia Holter is one filled with a deep sense of insecurity. Not at least because, at the age of twenty-nine, she has already made three critically acclaimed albums, but more so because no one is ever sure quite what will happen next.
From the opening of her show in St John’s, Hackney it was clear that live Holter manages to recapture the musical intelligence of 2013’s Loud City Song album, which popularised her against the grain composition. With quirky yet masterful songwriting, her music takes you into surprising places as ethereal vocals mix with jazz and folk instrumentation. With a composing graduate from CalArts in Los Angeles, her classical piano training was clearly let loose as she weaves genres together with an updated keyboard.
Her accompanying band of saxophone, cello, violin and drums, brought to life the epic soundscapes that feel primal and traditional vocally but with which Holter unexpectedly cuts modern moments where strings descend into frantic distortion. Starting dark and foreboding on “City Appearing”, there are also elements of cinematic scores in her performance as suspense is built into its core. The tipping points only further propelled the curious crowed to the edge of their pews, in fitting with the vast surroundings of the candlelit church.
In true emotionally toying fashion, “In The Green Wild” gave a taste of a more whimsical, almost nursery rhyme-like end of the Holter spectrum. Light and airy harmonies increased with ferocity until the musicians almost induced hernias. So carried away was Holter at one point in “Marienbad” that she forgot the ending entirely, asking “Oh I thought we were done – I guess not?” to her continuing band.
“Maxim” was even more grandiose than the recording; something helped along by the emotive string section and Holter’s talent for conveying stories through her voice. Affections, intonations and little peculiarities of hers add interest as she slowly unfurls the sections. Bowie-esque almost in it’s narrative; there was euphoric storytelling in places.
Like with every accomplished musician, there were occasionally moments of solo self-indulgence as breakdowns stretched slightly but despite this, there was always something to take in. However, with a crescendo of activity, the hushed congregation was ultimately left impressed as whoops and cheers broke the silence of her spell. Put simply, Holter’s live show is as untameable as her fusion folk - but it all fits together perfectly.