Gig review: Julia Holter, Hug & Pint, Glasgow

Julia Holter. Picture: Zoe KlinckVillage Underground/Flickr
Julia Holter. Picture: Zoe KlinckVillage Underground/Flickr
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“This one’s about manifest destiny,” offered Julia Holter before Everytime Boots in her soft Californian drawl.

Julia Holter | Rating: **** | Hug & Pint, Glasgow

“I don’t understand a lot of qualities of society, like trying to conquer other people…” For one or two in the crowd her words may have resonated strongly, or perhaps that’s just a disadvantage of being one of the last audience members to squeeze into this sweaty Great Western Road basement, and having heard the news about the Paris attacks seconds before she arrived onstage.

It’s important to note this not because the coincidence of timing is worth making a big deal out of, but because many of the emotions in Holter’s music perfectly suited those forced by the news. Her songs chime with sadness, melancholy, a dreamlike sense of disconnection, and an attempt towards hopefulness. Her voice is soft and angelic, but not used in stiflingly dull, technically accomplished fashion. Over pounding, jazz-styled double bass and scratching viola strings, she sang in whistles and “da-da”ing beats over In the Green Wild. The title track of this year’s fourth, breakthrough record, Have You in My Wilderness, soared through clashing piano chords.

For nearly 90 minutes, her show was a trip. Some of Holter’s songs are more typical singer-songwriter fare, but no less affecting and precisely composed for that. Others are otherworldly and exploratory, like the expansive Vasquez, stripped back from its multi-instrumental and highly-produced recorded version, but no less epic; or the caressing march of the closing Sea Calls Me Home, a track introduced as being, somewhat ominously, “about tender freedom and terrifying freedom”.

Some memories of this night may have been tainted by tragedy, but for many more, good memories of this year will surely fondly entangle with Holter’s striking music.