Snail Mail soars at Starline Social Club in heartfelt performance

Doug Smith/Staff
Doug Smith / Staff

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After two dreamy and lush openers, Snail Mail, lead by Lindsey Jordan, rocked the house at the Starline Social Club on Wednesday night. Her surprisingly sonorous voice filled the cozy room with powerful melodies. During the band’s first time in Oakland, Snail Mail dazzled the crowd with its hard-hitting songs about love, boredom and friendship.

Maryland native Jordan grew up writing and performing songs in the local music scene. She released an EP in 2016 that saw growing interest in her work. With her first album Lush, released in June of this year, Snail Mail has gotten big. And this popularity is what sparked a nationwide tour.

Despite being only 19 years old, Jordan carries an impressive presence on stage, belting her lyrics almost to the point of breaking, but always bridging the gap between vulnerability and resilience. Her lyrics are frank and to the point, and yet her method of singing them often fills the room with unanswered questions, asking audience members to pause and think what more could be said or unsaid in the space between the lyrics. A deceptively simple love song becomes instead a song of self-discovery, strength and independence.

And her music is incredibly popular. The audience was filled with a diverse range of people, from uptight parent-types to curious and giggly preteens. At one point, when Snail Mail said this was its first time in Oakland, a voice from the crowd asked, “What did you do today!” And each thing the band did was met with a wave of cheers. Oakland had been waiting to see Snail Mail for a long time.

This is partly because Snail Mail has grown a lot as a project, both in fans and in the direction its music has taken. On its first EP, Habit, many of the songs were about lovesickness and the frustration of a crush unreciprocated. Now, on Lush, Jordan’s sense of herself has grown, and many of the songs are about rejecting bad treatment and asking lovers, “Are you willing to change for me? “

Seeing the band live amplifies that feeling to an incredible degree.

The show opened with Oakland-based band Club Night, which performed surprising and noisily frenetic songs, constantly escalating to newer and more complicated rhythms. The second opener, Bonny Doon, brought the crowd a much more mellow sound. When Snail Mail arrived, quickly breaking into “Heat Wave,” it was clear the band knew exactly what the crowd wanted. Jordan took center stage and crooned plaintively and naturally, often gazing into the crowd as if she was singing directly to one person. Her voice can be incredibly powerful, even overwhelming sometimes. Like Mitski or Jay Som, often her voice made the words seem insufficient, like only a stronger, more powerful sound could express her feelings.

Even on less popular songs such as “Golden Dream” the crowd sang along to the lyrics with Jordan. “This next one’s about love,” Jordan said to the crowd, eliciting a quieter yell. “What, no one likes love? OK, screw you,” she said, annoyed, before flashing a smile. “Just kidding — here we go.” Throughout the show, her playful attitude contrasted with her strong and trembling voice.

At a certain point in the night, the rest of the band left, leaving just Jordan on stage. This more intimate, more vulnerable performance was breathtaking to see. Before Snail Mail, Jordan must have performed the same way, by herself, with only her voice and guitar. After several songs, she left the stage without fanfare. And after an encore, the band left again silently, leaving the audience with the feeling of experiencing something true and humble, shared between all of them.

Contact Charlie Kruse at [email protected]. Tweet him at @beepbeepbooks.