Watch Julien Baker Cover Elliott Smith, Get Interviewed By A Kid

Chris DeVille | January 19, 2016 - 11:10 am

Julien Baker played the Big Room Bar in Columbus last night. It was the talented young singer-songwriter’s third straight show here at an unconventional venue following gigs at the campy vaudeville striptease-themed Bossy Grrl’s Pinup Joint and the Tree Bar, which has a giant tree trunk in the middle of the floor. (It used to be a full-grown silver maple that extended through the ceiling, which was neat but a real pain with regard to sight lines.)

Big Room Bar is attached to my city’s independently owned alternative radio station, CD102.5, in a space where they’ve long hosted in-studio sessions with touring bands. Given the small size of the room and the station logos plastered behind the stage, it felt like some odd combination of radio session, house show, and open mic night, but with craft beer and kitchen service.

Under the circumstances, the show could have been either oddly sterile or pleasingly intimate. Thanks to Baker’s introverted charisma and astounding musical powers, it was the latter. The girl really justified her place on last year’s Best New Bands list. I’d tell you now how good it was, except I already did:

OK, here’s a little more detail: Baker began with the gut-punch title track from last year’s fantastic Sprained Ankle — opening line: “I wish I could write songs about anything other than death” — and kept banging out the heartrending slow jams from there. She wrung the most from her solo setup, nailing complicated electric guitar parts without letting them get in the way of her soaring, sighing vocals. When she grabbed an acoustic and stepped in front of the mic for a few songs, her stage presence was somehow amplified. She’s the rare talent who can captivate a room full of people all by herself, without theatrics or even many dynamic shifts.

That unplugged scenario produced one of the night’s most memorable moments. Baker’s “half as fast, twice as sad” cover of Elliott Smith’s “The Ballad Of Big Nothing” captured my attention for obvious reasons: Could there be a clearer spiritual successor for her mournful, self-effacing disposition and her ability to spellbind with just her voice and a guitar? She mentioned she’s recording the song for an upcoming tribute album, but you can preview it in this video snippet:

Before the show, Baker sat down with Kids Interview Bands for what might be her first video interview. Watch that to get a sense of what a bright and outgoing presence is responsible for such harrowing music.

Sprained Ankle is out now on 6131 Records. Read our interview with Baker here.