Review: Julien Baker Coordinates a House of Vans Show… Down to the Weather

Waiting in the cold rain to cry in an abandoned warehouse. Maybe the perfect setting for a Julien Baker show. Baker curated a night at the House of Vans so well that she somehow added poignant melancholia in the form of 50 degree weather on June 19. She brought in artists Ariel Wolfe Baldwin & Lauren Asta to create murals in the space, as well as selecting Macseal and Wye Oak as the opening acts.

The House of Vans shows are a favorite amongst Chicagoans — rain or snow, there is always a line winding around the brick warehouse anxiously waiting for the sanctity of good music and free beer… if they got there early enough for their RSVPs to be honored.

This show was no different. Even with distractions like photo booths, art installations, and did I mention free beer, there was a solid crowd attentively listening to the opener, Long Island emo rock group Macseal. The band humbly reiterated how grateful they were to play to such a sizable crowd — their biggest yet.

Second opener, Wye Oak, were a bit more used to the crowd-size. The audience waded into their ocean of synths, but it was hard to become fully immersed with a toned down sound and the free beer starting to release repercussions from the back of the audience.

A little before 10 p.m. Baker descended the stairs from the VIP area, walking to the front of the venue and obliging a hug along the way.

The set up on stage showed that we were in for a solo set. And as the sparkle-twinged melancholia of “Appointments” swelled up, the audience visibly honed in and gave each other the space to experience the set as an intimate ordeal.

As Baker went into “Turn Out the Lights,” the same transition on 2017’s album of the same name, it was clear that many had experienced the album alone, while sad, while maybe lying down, while probably in the dark. Hearing the songs under stage lighting, surrounded by strangers, maybe flanked by friends is one of my favorite concert experiences: the validation felt by Baker crooning “Don’t be so hard on myself / So why is it easy for everyone else?” is one thing…. When you realize that hundreds of others have a similar connection to the feeling, you understand it isn’t that easy for everyone else and a wave of empathy and catharsis washes over you like the loops Baker carefully releases over the audience.

Baker got her own support system as a violinist joined her on stage for “Shadowboxing,” a beautiful accompaniment to color the track. The violinist stayed on for “Hurt Less” and “Sour Breath.”

Baker’s stage banter was hard to hear from my vantage point, but at one point she reiterated the sentiment, saying she couldn’t hear anything the audience said. No matter, she did prompt for a “notable thing that happened to someone today.” Someone shared it was their birthday, but truthfully we all wanted to respond “This. This right now.”

All photos by Julian Ramirez

House of Vans’ House Parties returns on July 11th with an evening curated by BANKS! RSVPs are limited, so get your name on the list as soon as you can to enjoy what sure to be another great night at House of Vans

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Erin McAuliffe