Having doubly underscored her critical clout and sonic vision with the release of her fourth album, Have You In My Wilderness, late last year, L.A. experimental pop dilettante Julia Holter’s sold-out Button Factory in Dublin tonight is nothing if not perfect testament to following one’s very own path in the well-trodden wilderness of solo artistry. Having positively beguiled the Unitarian Church three years previous, the multi-instrumentalist returns to the capital a musician that has covered considerable creative ground since.
An under-the-radar proposition for many tonight, New York indie-folk singer-songwriter DM Stith (below) wastes no time in making an impression as Holter’s sole support. Stripped back to acoustic and vocals, his dark and woozy laments burst with an immediate crestfallen pathos. With fingerpicked patterns and wonderfully unconventional chord shifts betraying a real sense of considered intuition, tracks like ‘Thanksgiving Moon’ reveal an artist who, for all his musical finesse, marks his territory via his exquisite, Baroque-leaning, Department of Eagles-evoking vocals. Expressing his appreciation of tonight’s attentive crowd (“Thank you for being so quiet. Of course, I would love to talk to each and every one of you after the show…”) he proves a pleasantly unassuming, revelatory opener.
By the time 9pm creeps around, the Button Factory is bunged to the eagerest rafters as Julia Holter and her band – drummer Corey Fogel, double-bassist Devon Hoff and violist/vocalist Dina Maccabee – assume their positions on stage. “I need you guys to talk for a second…” she says, coolly checking her keyboard settings. Already enamoured, the crowd, of course, watch on like mice. “I’ve always loved Dublin,” she adds. “I love walking around the city. It has a lot of history, and a lot smart and interesting people have come from here. So I just want you guys to know that before we play, just in case you judge me…” With the latter remark far from a legitimate concern, Holter is in the most blithe and jesting of spirits.
Whilst slightly uncertain in its opening bars, ‘He’s Running Through My Eyes’ makes for a paralyzingly gorgeous first gambit, sealing the deal on the nigh on reverential, pin-drop silence that fills out the room. ‘Horns Surrounding Me’ from 2013’s Loud City Song quickly follows, warranting an emphatic “yes!” from certain sections of the crowd. Holter whispers “I love you” and Hoff induces its bobbing strut. With red light descending upon the four figures on the stage, the show begins and the song’s strutting menace acts a bed upon which Holter, Hoff, Fogel and Maccabee weave a masterful mesh of noise. A highlight from Have You In My Wilderness, the wonderfully restrained rhythms of ‘Silhouette’ yield to an unravelling crescendo of the highest order, Holter’s vocals feeling that little bit more empathic than on record. Indeed, as with on most songs tonight, Maccabee’s backing vocals also prove instrumental in replicating the layered majesty of Holter’s studio-recorded output.
With a loose rendition of ‘Lucette Stranded on The Island’ blending into the spidering chamber-pop of ‘Feel You’, one can’t help but wonder: how is this only a four-piece? With many tracks feeling like journeys untangling from the slightest shapes before blossoming into grand maelstroms of cunningly-constructed discordance, Holter and her band muster some great moments tonight. Indeed, revealing the former’s more theatrical side, the abstracted prog-pop of ‘In The Green Wild’ follows quick on the heels of ‘Lucette…’, proving a highlight alongside ‘Betsy on the Roof’, its heart-rending outro making for an outright peak. Following a blaring rupture of applause, she says, “I love your energy. A lot of times when I play the energy in the room is invisible, so thank you”. The sincerity is touchable.
Succeeding nods to Trinity and the esteemed quality of the city’s Guinness (but of course), as well as a sardonic snippet of Rihanna’s ‘Stay’ (you had to be there), ‘City Appearing’ and its abstracted phantasm, the mantra-like ‘Goddess Eyes’ and the masterfully mournful ‘How Long?’ are very well received before a two-song encore comprised of ‘Sea Take Me Home’ (with its impossibly charming whistle solo) and a sublime rendition of Burt Bacharach’s and Hal David’s ‘Don’t Make Me Over’ sees Holter and her exemplary band skip off-stage, surely content in the knowledge they have delivered something very special tonight. Brian Coney
Photos by Mark Earley