Released Feb. 26 this year, Julien Baker’s third album Little Oblivions was met with fanfare from critics and casual listeners alike. Filled with heartwrenching lyricism and sophisticated instrumentation, the record is Baker’s best work to date. However, the aftermath of winter’s COVID-19 spike made in-person touring seem bleaker than ever, causing fans to question how long the wait would be until they could hear Baker’s masterpiece in the flesh. Finally, after nine months of anticipation, Baker fans are finally able to fulfill such longing.
On Saturday, Nov. 6, captivating a wide array of audience members, Oakland’s Fox Theater’s crowd ranged from tweens to senior citizens, all gathered to give an ear to the incredible songwriting talents of the ubiquitous musician. With the pent-up energy of those who’ve been starved for live performances for over a year and a half and a sea of flannel shirts, it was immediately clear that the night was going to be a special one.
With Illuminati Hotties and Dehd as openers, the room was rapidly filled with upbeat, joyful energy from the second the performers entered the stage. With Illuminati Hotties’ bouncy, near-childlike aura and Dehd’s unique musical ethos, both bands — all while unabashedly dancing and interconnecting with the audience — flawlessly prepared the concertgoers for the magical set to come.
The crowd grew silent as the stage lights dimmed, immediately contrasted by thunderous cheers erupted as Baker’s silhouette appeared on stage. Without saying a word, synths drowned out the audience as focus fell onto Baker and her band. With poles of light scattered across the stage, syncopated with the song’s pulsating instrumentation, Baker began a goosebump-inducing rendition of “Hardline.” Singing “Blacked out on a weekday/ Still something that I’m trying to avoid/ Start asking for forgiveness in advance/ For all the future things I will destroy,” a wave of emotion from the stage swept onto the audience — a perfect introduction for what Baker’s set had yet to offer.
Playing with her band for the show’s first half, Baker ditched the grand production around the concert’s midpoint and sat down, alone, at her piano. Singing stripped-down tracks “Televangelist” and “Song in E,” Baker’s intimate performance only brought additional vulnerability to the already deeply personal songs. With the crowd swaying side-to-side to Baker’s unquestionably impressive piano skills and vocal stylings, the instrumental change brought a much appreciated atmospheric shift to the performance.
Because of her minimalistic stretch of songs, however, the audience was well-primed for the reemergence of Baker’s band. Seamlessly transitioning into the tragic “Faith Healer,” Baker was once again backed by drums and guitars as she sang the heartbreaking lyrics, “I’ll believe you if you make me feel something.”
Playing Little Oblivions in its near entirety with older hits dispersed throughout the setlist, Baker joked with her listeners as the performance reached its end. Warning her audience that her rendition of “Appointments” was a “fake last song,” and pointing out that the pandemic had made us all forget how concerts work, Baker left the stage then quickly reentered, as promised, to perform an encore. Finishing out the setlist with a solo portrayal of “Everybody Does” followed by a full-band production of the undeniably fervent “Ziptie,” Baker left her listeners to steep in the performance’s residual passion as she exited the stage.
Baker’s concert was certainly one for the books. Incredibly affecting, her emotive lyricism paired with the attention-grabbing variation of her instrumentation not only captivated the audience for the 20-song runtime, but made attendees wish the concert could last even longer. Baker truly is one of the best songwriters of her time, and witnessing her perform live feels as though you are witnessing history in the making — because you are. The Fox Theater’s audience was lucky enough to experience such a uniquely moving show, leaving one to wonder what is to come next from such a promising musician.
Ian Fredrickson covers music. Contact him at [email protected].