Review: Julien Baker at the Crown and Anchor Hotel

Words by Matthew Hayward

“You will cry tonight. It’s definitely going to happen.”

With this reassuring advice given to me by a friendly yet random attendee at the beginning of the night and with the intimate setting drawing a sell out crowd - Adelaide punters were treated to a compelling and graceful performance from Memphis native Julien Baker at the Crown and Anchor Hotel, with support from locals Bec Stevens and MANE.  

Despite the earlier advertised start time of 7:30pm, MANE opened to a busy and energetic audience. Paige Renee Court has had an incredibly successful year, winning the prestigious Arts SA Stigwood Fellowship, touring both the U.S. and Australia, as well as having recently scored a Best Female Artist nod at this South Australian Music Awards for her efforts. 

Playing as a stripped back duo for the occasion with the ever so cordial guitarist Louis Donnarumma, MANE played a collection of strong cuts from her recent ‘House of Horror’ EP.  Deconstructing the indie pop orientated songs to their original compositions, MANE performed acoustic versions including the single ‘Bitter’ as well as a surprisingly wistful cover of Weezer’s ‘Say it Ain’t So’.  The quality of these songs as well as the confidence and graciousness on display by the duo won them over many a new fan before their set was over.

Bec Stevens continued the trend of solid local performances with the earnestness and heartfelt lyricism of a seasoned veteran.  Having been championed alongside the new Australian explosion of introspective indie folk (and/or if you’re into the categorisation) punk, her songs leant strongly on her ‘More Scared Than Me’ EP. 

With a similarity in vocal delivery to Camp Cope’s Georgia Maq, Stevens brought a warmth and sincerity to the characters and her own experiences in her songs such as the confessional ‘Three Days’ and ‘Stitches’.

“This might be the happiest song I’ve ever written”, she said as she played the bittersweet ode to a housemate romance in the song ‘Joey’.  Look forward to hearing more from both Bec and her output with her equally awesome band Hyder Seek in the not too distant future.

The night, however, belonged to the emotive songs of American singer-songwriter Julien Baker. Having performed to an impressive audience the previous evening at The Porch Sessions, Baker opened with the elegiac ‘Blacktop’ from her debut album Sprained Ankle.

Softly-spoken and generally excited to be in Australia (a trip to Cleland Conservation Park had resulted with some serious Koala facetime), Baker’s hauntingly beautiful songs silenced the attentive audience. 

With just a guitar and her impeccable voice she struck up similarities with the best of classic emo and indie rock groups such as Death Cab for Cutie and Frightened Rabbit; her ability to connect with the audience through heartfelt expressions of sorrow and existential angst were highlighted by the songs ‘Sprained Ankle’ and ‘Brittle Boned’.  Her work resonated on such an instinctive emotional level, encapsulating many universal themes of love and forgiveness, losing faith and finding acceptance in an increasingly uncertain world.

Sometimes you can find joy and hope in the saddest music, and on Monday night for just a few hours at the very least, Julien Baker quietly changed our lives for the better.