This would be the second time Julien Baker plays the Mercury Lounge, but under a circumstances that are bit different. On this go around, she in the midst of a headlining tour and a lot more attention, garnering big praise from Sharon van Etten and The National. It’s no surprise that Sprained Ankle landed on a ton “best of 2015” lists, as its probably the most emotionally stirring record I heard last year (or even the past few). It’s wouldn’t be the first meeting between Baker and Eskimeaux‘s Gabrielle Smith, as Baker did sound for an Eskimeaux show in Tennessee a few years ago.
It felt like it was a bit colder than the advertised temps of 30, but by the end of Eskimeaux‘s buoyant 40 minute set, the crowd seemed pretty warmed up. Playing mostly tracks from last year’s delightful O.K. while sprinkling a few new tracks that may end up on the upcoming Eskimeaux record.
Before Baker took the stage, the audience was already entranced by her. Playing Sprained Ankle in its entirety, the heavy emotions from Baker’s guitars and vocals were offset by her humorous stage banter. Her songs, delicate but sodden with sorrow, take bigger blows to the gut when experienced live versus the recordings. Her songs, introspective and personal. but even after being performed many times for the past year there were times during the set where she was on the verge of choking up.
In the middle of the set, Baker brought out her cover of Elliott Smith’s “Ballad of Big Nothing“, which she had been playing during the tour. The cover will appear on an upcoming Elliott Smith tribute compilation. Just before the cover, she professed that she wasn’t sure if her version could fill the shoes of the “sultan of sad” (as she described him). But in many facets she’s the new “sultan of sad” and I’ll be going to see her whenever she’s in town.
Baker and Eskimeaux will be doing it again at Rough Trade 1/25.