Julien Baker Brings Elegant Simplicity to House of Vans Chicago
Last Wednesday Julien Baker played a free show at House of Vans Chicago, a venue tucked along the rapidly growing Randolph Street on the city’s west side. Fans in line snaked around all corners of the brick building, through alleys, and were briefly thrown in a light rain while waiting for doors to open at 7:00 pm. Once inside, the sour weather faded into a distant memory— the bar sufficiently stocked with free beer and canned water, various art pieces lined the walls, while a complimentary photo booth waited expectantly for its first group. Plenty of comfy seating could be found in the main room and galleries, plus a kick ass DJ spinning fresh tunes up at the front.
Handpicked by Baker herself, Macseal and Wye Oak opened the show as additional late comers continued to file into the space. The atmosphere was electric, exemplifying a deep sense of comradery and openness between strangers. Couples and friends trotted around in ‘90s high-waisted mom jeans, others adorned bright retro colors, coats and oversized hoodies, with the occasional vintage overall. Laughter filled the room in-between songs, and sets, while delicious smells from the food truck parked outside frequently meandered through the air.
Around the time Wye Oak finished up, the photo booth had a little too much action at this point, causing many to gather as playful attempts were made to try various cord and outlet combinations, in hopes of repairing the machine. One attendee, an electrical engineer, weighed in and pondered whether the conduits in the building were adequate for this kind of thing. But, enough of that.
Starting off her set with 2017’s lead single from Turn Out the Lights, Baker beautifully crooned “Appointments” alone on the stage, filling the warehouse with soft fingerpicking and warm fuzzy sentiment, despite the heaviness of the song. “Turn Out the Lights” followed, the album’s title track, an authentic, striking portrayal of pain that makes one question whether they’re at the show for free therapy or free music.
Baker’s black Judas Priest tee covered a portion of her sprawling arm tattoos, her dark wash jeans neatly rolled up to meet her black Vans. The next three songs— “Blacktop,” “Sprained Ankle,” and “Rejoice”— were breathtaking and stunning all in the same. Her lyricism is impeccable, the imagery significant and widely descriptive. On “Rejoice” she gently sang, “All of my friends, a plastic bag. Walking around, jumping the train tracks. It's over the fence, veins all black. Sleep on a bench in the park on my birthday. Call the blue lights. Cursed your name. When I find I'm still awake.”
All three tracks come off her first EP, Sprained Ankle, released October 2015.
During “Shadowboxing,” a female violinist joined Baker on stage, aiding her swelling guitar and carrying through to “Even” and “Sour Breath.” Typically the crowd remains hauntingly silent during every Julien Baker show, yet this night was different. Already a few hours in, the free beer had started taking effect and a good chunk of people were buzzed, as evidenced by the low chatter at the rear by the bar. The group at the front remained unaffected however, lulled in a cathartic stupor and listening with intent as Baker finished off the set with “Everybody Does, “Go Home,” and “Something.”
Of course, there is always a “we love you!” confession somewhere between songs, at times multiple declarations.
House of Vans Chicago first opened its doors on February 3rd, 2017 with live performances from Future Islands, hip-hop trio Digable Planets, and accomplished Chicago-based rapper, Noname. Known as a music, art, and skateboarding venue, it proudly stands within walking distance of two other underground music establishments on Chicago’s west side, Bottom Lounge and Cobra Lounge.
The free shows at House of Vans Chicago continue next month with BANKS on Thursday, July 11th, Taking Back Sunday on July 13th, and Anderson .Paak on July 25th. Headliners on each date curate their own supporting acts alongside new art installations, quirky bean bag seating, and concrete skate bowls. RSVP for upcoming shows here.
Julien Baker will play two dates in the U.S. before heading abroad to Europe for a handful of additional festivals.
6/22 - Calgary, AB - Sled Island Music Festival
6/29 - Milwaukee, WI - American Family Insurance Theater *
7/4 - Roskilde, Denmark - Roskilde Festival
7/5 - Darmstadt, Germany - Oetinger Villa
7/7 - Montreux, Switzerland - Auditorium Stravinski *
7/30 - Austin, TX @ Austin City Limits TV Taping ^
7/31 - Austin, TX @ Paramount Theater ^
8/7 - Oslo, Norway - Øya Festival
8/8 - 8/10 - Rees, Germany - Haldern Pop Festival
8/8 - 8/10 - Gothenburg, Sweden - Stay Out West
8/12 - Münster, Germany - Lwl Museum Für Kunst Und Kultur
8/13 - Luxembourg, Luxembourg - Congés Annulés
8/15 - Paredes de Coura, Portugal - Vodafone Paredes de Coura
* w/ Bon Iver
^ w/ Lucy Dacus