BEING THERE: Julia Holter @ Johnny Brenda’s


Photo by Mary Lynn Dominguez

Early Friday morning, I took the blow of a complicated, dramatic break-up. It was another one of those “It’s not you, it’s me,” “No, wait, it’s you, you are afraid of being alone,” “It’s just bad timing,” “I need space”— You know, a gross concoction of blame and excuses to address that it’s just not working out. Later that afternoon, half in preparation for the show and half as a remedy for being dumped, I put on Julia Holter’s 2015 full-length Have You In My Wilderness and took a walk around my neighborhood. Temperatures were just about freezing, along with 20 mile-per-hour winds. But the sun was out, which was all that mattered to me. Holter’s unusually warm and present vocals on the opening song “Feel You” paired nicely with the cool winter sunlight in that moment. The wind blew empty bags of chips and soda cans past my feet. They spiraled down the sidewalk like a special kind of urban tumbleweed, the metallic packaging occasionally reflecting beams of the winter sunlight. I’ve never felt so romantically connected to garbage, but it weirdly made me happy.

Julia Holter’s music is especially good for romanticizing sadness and tragically fated relationships. I’ve wanted to see Holter perform live for a while, but she seemed to primarily tour in the UK, despite being a native Californian. So it was almost by some unfortunate fate that on the day she was in town, I’d be dealing with sorrows of my own. At Johnny Brenda’s, Circuit des Yeux opened for Holter with a stunningly powerful set, appearing more like a mysterious, guitar-holding silhouette with just a single backlight throughout her time onstage. Armed with little more than her acoustic guitar, a board of effects pedals and hauntingly deep vocals, she transfixed the audience through massive-sounding ballads. In a way, she couldn’t have been more opposite than what I expected to see from Julia Holter.

Holter and her band took their places onstage under a golden yellow light, which casted a jubilant mood over the room. A crowd of mostly fan boys with obvious crushes peered up at Holter eagerly, breaking out their phones to snap photos of her naturally goddess-like stance, illuminated by the stage lights. Starting off with “Silhouette” from the new album was an easy takeoff for Holter and her band, who carefully adapted to the crowd and space. The set pulled mostly from her new album, which is atypically melodic and full of clarity, compared to previous releases. Holter played the keyboard as though it were some natural extension of her body, and sang with an eerie calm through a few distinct voices— belting through pop anthems like “Horns Surrounding Me” and “Feel You,” using a more hushed-down voice for dreamier pieces like “Lucette Stranded on the Island,” and coolly drifting between speaking and singing for “Vasquez.” She confided in the audience that she mostly enjoyed singing to the golden angel sculpture that hangs from a corner the ceiling.

I’m proud to say that I wasn’t drawn to tears in public, until Holter’s keyboard-smashing cover of Dionne Warwick’s “Don’t Make Me Over” during the encore. My self-pity party was only slightly remedied by the follow-up “Sea Calls Me Home,” which is a certified earworm all about being comfortable with independently taking on life’s uncertainty. I walked home feeling mostly drained from the day’s events, but undeniably more OK with life. The wind let down since that afternoon, but the garbage remained scattered on the sidewalk, perfectly in place for the next person who could see that it wasn’t completely terrible. — Mary Lynn Dominguez