Julia Holter’s audacious weirdness tested the resolve of an audience in London recently, with a number of attendees reportedly walking out during the encore. An assault of droning art-pop had apparently proved too much for newcomers to the Los Angeles singer, whose repertoire swings from the infectious to the obtuse.
Happily, the crowd at her largest ever Irish crowed stayed committed all the way through, even when 31-year-old Holter looked in danger of slipping beneath endless waves of melancholy, as she did during a 10 minute dismantling of Barbara Lewis’s 1963 r’n’b hit ‘Hello Stranger’ (Holter’s version was more Sigur Ros than shoo-woo).
She had by that point thoroughly enraptured the room with material that blended classical music, progressive indie rock and confessional angst.
Standing behind a keyboard, Holter cooed and crooned — and occasionally shrieked as if her world was tumbling down around her shoulders in real time (in fact the biggest challenge was putting manners on her squeaky instrument).
At its best, the gig was stirringly odd. Holter, backed by a bustling assembly of horn players, percussionists and guitarists, delivered her ‘hit’, ‘Feel You’, in an effervescent lilt, and allowed her band off the leash on the intricately minimalist ‘Betsy on the Roof’ and ‘Für Felix’.
Unimaginative journalists have likened Holter to Bjork, on the basis both are females specialising in experimental pop. The comparison doesn’t really hold up — indeed, the idea that Holter pursues quirkiness for its own sake was here demolished with the heartfelt and very straightforward ‘Silhouette’.
Still, those who had made their way to Vicar Street anticipating 90 minutes of pleasantly kooky alternative rock may have been slightly discommoded.
Holter is no crowd pleaser and clearly believes it her job to challenge rather than pander. But if you were on board it was bewitching — a journey to the eerie side with Holter a luminescent spirit guide.
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