Julia Holter has visited Manchester several times since the release of her debut record Tragedy in 2011, but this evening’s performance at Gorilla must be the most satisfying for the Californian, despite Manchester’s meteorological elements doing their best to convince her to return to sunnier climes. It is certainly the first time she has played in the city since the release of her critically lauded record Have You in My Wilderness. The album retains her idiosyncratic, avant garde expressionism of earlier records but pursues it with more melodic, pop sensibilities and this approach has clearly clicked with fans. It is her fourth record in four years and saw her significantly placed on many end of year lists in 2015, confirming the success this tangle of interests was having amongst fans and critics alike. Manchester’s very own Picadilly Records placed it at the summit of their 2015 pile and rewarded her return to the city with all manner of gifts including a Manchester cookbook that will no doubt have included a mean Hot Pot. Tonight though, it was Julia Holter’s opportunity to cook up a little bit of a musical feast for a full house in Gorilla.
In support this evening is singer-songwriter DM Stith. Hailing from Buffalo, New York, the musician provides some quietly invigorating and conceptual material that could have alienated some due to its restrained presentation. Thankfully, David Michael Stith is blessed to find a Manchester crowd who are willing to invest their time in a new artist and we are treated to a short set of starkly acoustic songs, fragile to the core, yet there are moments when something more lurid and dangerous looms. Occasionally, a more natural conclusion to these tales eludes us and warped rhythms become layered as they twist and contort, dreamlike towards dubious outcomes.
These surreal moments certainly prepare us for what is to come later in the evening. Although the show starts in a quietly refined mode with the elegant City Appearing, the magnificent Silhouette follows and the ethereal beauty of the song grips and establishes the fundamental pleasures that can be discerned in a Julia Holter performance. Off-kilter melodies combine with Holter’s unconventional vocals and it immediately becomes clear how essential her band are to the whole experience. An upright bass adds warm, jazzy tones and relaxed percussive elements gently mould the songs rhythms, but perhaps the most significant and satisfying contribution from the band this evening comes from Dina Maccabee on the viola. She not only coaxes the most haunting tones from her instrument but also provides compelling harmonies which compliment Holter’s performance during significantly dramatic moments on Horns Surrounding Me and Lucette Stranded on the Island.
The evening has a theatrical feel throughout. Feel You’s foundations are built around the unorthodox melodies created on the harpsichord, which is an instrument possessing an ostentatious personality perfectly suited to dramatic performances such as this; throughout the show Julia Holter appears aloof one moment and animated the next as she takes on the personality of her songs, yet in-between tracks she is a gracious host, acknowledging the path she has travelled in order to sell out Gorilla tonight.
The evening is a spellbinding affair and the dreamlike qualities it has already exhibited begin to contort as the show heads towards it’s conclusion and the final track before the encore manages to encapsulate the whole evening. Vasquez is unsettling and peculiarly Californian in the same way The Doors would take a song and enhance it through experimentation and sheer exuberance. A combination of Julia Holter’s vivid imagination and exceptional support from her fellow musicians ensures that no recipe book is required to cook up this banquet of delights.
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Review and Photos by Iain Fox | @IainFoxPhoto