Despite the show’s excruciating openers, the Snail Mail concert Jan. 24 at The Fillmore in San Francisco felt like an episode in the becoming of a future indie-rock superstar.
The night began with a performance by Choir Boy, a band from Salt Lake City, Utah. Its sing-song 80s-tinted ballads sounded like background music from dated television commercials — the band easily could have existed in the same gaudy, retro universe as “Black Mirror: Bandersnatch,” but the creators of “Bandersnatch” seemed to be a lot more self-aware in the program’s production than Choir Boy was during its concert set.
The millennial crowd comprising The Fillmore’s spacious floor and poster-laden balcony seemed to enjoy this opening set, possibly due to its older age and affinity for vintage sounds. After all, the Maryland-based musical project Snail Mail — spearheaded by nineteen-year-old artist Lindsey Jordan — takes heavy influence from 90s indie rock in crafting its sound. Where Snail Mail differed from its openers that night, however, was that the headliner’s music and performance was actually bearable to experience as an audience member.
Shortly after Choir Boy finally exited the stage, its slightly more upbeat replacement, electronic artist Black Marble took over. The Brooklyn artist started off with a bang, performing songs like “Golden Heart” that amped up sections of the crowd. The warm, gleeful sound was a necessary emotional primer for the heartbreaking Snail Mail set — this could have been achieved, however, by a shorter set of three or four songs. Instead, Black Marble went on for about an hour playing songs that all muddied together and began to sound like the same track.
Following Black Marble’s eventual exit from the stage, Snail Mail began setting up its instruments and graced the stage with the ballad “Heatwave” from its debut album “Lush.” Frontwoman Lindsey Jordan came out swinging with a profoundly emotional vocal performance, one that wouldn’t typically be expected from an untrained nineteen-year-old musician who just recently rose to fame.
Jordan was front and center for the show’s entirety, playing lead guitar while managing to uphold the strength of her initial vocal standard. An amplifier change after the third song accentuated the show’s quality as Jordan and her bandmates became much more discernible. This was evident as the band played “Golden Dream,” a rhythmic standout from the band’s set.
Indie bands that now thrive in the mainstream, such as The Strokes, often relied upon their raw talent to make up for their lack of polish early on in their careers. Snail Mail — in particular, Jordan — took this to new heights as the lead singer’s voice stunned the crowd for the entirety of the set. Although Jordan’s vocal chords were evidently sprained, the way she sometimes sang incredibly softly and at other times shouted out her lines added a breathtaking, dynamic flair to the performance.
Jordan’s sensitive vocal delivery juxtaposed with masterfully played instruments — courtesy of the band’s drummer, bassist and keyboardist — proved for a resounding success. Snail Mail’s hit song “Pristine” sounded even more explosive and poignant when performed live compared to the studio version.
Marcus Rice, a Cal student who was attending the concert, called the show “a youthful performance by an artist possibly ready for the stage but definitely ready to play her heart out.”
An acoustic rendition of “Anytime” featured a disco ball filling the venue with Jordan alone on the stage, strumming her guitar and singing the song’s barbed, incisive and aching words. Lines including “I’m not in love with your absence,” “I want better for you” and “Do you love me?” felt as if they had an added weight of significance with Jordan present to deliver them live.
Snail Mail redeemed its subpar openers precisely because Lindsey Jordan wore her heart on her sleeve during the headlining set. As she started crying during the group’s performance of “Stick,” it became apparent that she is able to convey the emotionality behind her lyrics with authenticity. Snail Mail’s ability to enchant its listeners through the band’s beautifully sad yet endlessly replayable tracks is a testament to the promise of Snail Mail’s exciting future success.