by Anna Selle
For the first weekend in August, it’s unseasonably cold. Rain hangs in the air and saturates the day with moisture that makes each breath heavy in your chest. Although seemingly undesirable weather conditions for a summer Saturday, the drizzle offers a reprieve from Kansas’s exhausting heat. And atmospherically, you couldn’t ask for a better day to see a Julien Baker show.
Inside the Granada Theater in Lawrence, Ks., it’s just past 8:00 p.m. Luray, an indie folk four-piece from Richmond, Va. entertain a mollified crowd of concert goers. A subtle buzz of anticipation whirs through the room as their set concludes and the stage is changed over; drum set removed, microphones condensed, a keyboard and throne placed center stage. Minutes later, the picture is completed with the addition of the Tennessee-born songwriter.
Baker plucks the first few notes of “Sprained Ankle,” the namesake for her 2015 debut album, and the crowd cheers. Hearing a chorus of voices sing the opening lines surprises me. Listening to Baker’s music is typically a solitary experience, her songs the soundtrack to my early morning walks into work or late night drives home. But this experience is shared with a few hundred people, most of whom are strangers, some of whom are friends.
As the impromptu choir accompanies Baker, the edges of her mouth curve into a grin while forming the words of “Everybody Does.” This song, she goes on to explain, is about grappling with feeling undeserving of love and isolated from others. Hearing so many voices singing the words along with her, in a way is contradictory to their meaning.
“It’s proven wrong to me. In a live setting. For my job,” Baker remarks. Her dry, wry humor fills the space between songs, breaking the silence of a crowd that doesn’t want to miss a single note played or word said. The stillness in this space is palpable and comfortable. Baker holds us close together, a magnet for melancholic thoughts and bruised hearts.
As Baker introduces her last song, I realize that I'm unaware of how much time has elapsed. Her set concludes and the house lights come on, and it's like a trance has been lifted and we all return to a normal state of being. Outside, the rain continues to pour, but the sky turned black in our absence.