Monday, June 04, 2012


I’ve been fairly obsessed with Julia Holter’s “Ekstasis” since it was released earlier this year. I can’t remember who or what tipped me off but from first listen I was hooked – and then worked backwards to her debut "Tragedy" (which was re-released in the UK in an expanded version this year by Night School Records). Both are astonishing records but subtly different. The former is more abstract and freeform with ambient passages and snatches of opera woven into its ethereal swirl. “Ekstatsis” is a more immediate listen, with more clearly defined song structures, but creating a beguiling dream-world by layering electronically processed and natural voices amongst a gentle collision of synthesised and organic sounds. The common thread is Julia Holter’s sharp-but-faraway inflections which, whether vocodered or not, ring out clear and true.

So I had high expectations of this concert mixed with a sense of intrigue about what to expect from Julia Holter live. The band set-up tonight was a trio: Julia centre on keyboards, drums to her right and cello to her left. This was the first time I’ve been to a gig where I’ve seen a flight-case lid full of effect pedals... for a cello. It was the sort of array of effects I was expecting to see deployed on Ms Holter’s voice. Instead she stood behind the keyboard stand with just a single mic, simply asking for more and more reverb on her voice between songs (“
Can I have more? I like MORE”).

What was extraordinary to watch was her singing: largely motionless except for a graceful sweep of her arms over the keyboard and controlling the range of sounds through the position of jaw, tongue and shape of mouth. Sure there was plenty of reverb but it heightened her natural voice rather than masked it. The set alternated louder, punchier numbers – ‘This Is Ekstatsis’, new song ‘Gaston’ and an extraordinarily eerie ‘Try To Make Yourself a Work Of Art’ with cascading cymbal crashes and dark pulsing stabs of the cello – with the more drifting, ethereal ones, culminating is a six-and-a-half minute, lingering version of ‘Goddess Eyes’ and final song ‘In The Same Room’. Throughout there was a focused, cool precision to the playing but also a floating, magical elasticity.

Los Angeles-dwelling Julia Holter said this was her first visit to Manchester – pause – “and I like the rain”. Well on a dreary, soggy June night that was difficult to tell from February or November, it was apparent she was not put off by climate. “Ekstasis” is certainly one of the records of the year for me and tonight was an intimate and revealing re-presentation of those songs in front a quietly reverential crowd. Thanks to promoters Comfortable On A Tightrope and Faktion for making this – her only headlining date on this UK tour? – happen. Special in many ways.

The Set List:

Our Sorrows
Für Felix
Take Time To Make Yourself A Work Of Art
Betsy On The Roof
Boy In The Moon
Moni Mon Amie
Goddess Eyes
In The Same Room

1 comment:

Squasher said...

Nice videos, gig was great.