LIVE REVIEW: Julia Holter, Marcus Whale @ NSC, Sydney (09/12/15)

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IMG_4209This was a night for a light to be shone on the more distant edges of pop music, where obtuse angles and bold and wilder imaginations take flight. Marcus Whale had emailed Julia Holter requesting a support slot and his wish was granted. Holter and local label Mistletone’s trust was more than rewarded with a riveting opening set that took militant drums, a caustic electronic backdrop and Whale’s soulful, effect-laden voice into territory that artists like Bjork and Zola Jesus inhabit.

Julia Holter’s year has culminated in her appearing at or near the top of many respected end-of-year lists which will no doubt see her cache and audience sizes increase in 2016. That made this show feel like we were witnessing an artist on the cusp of being elevated to the next level of music industry exposure. After a tentative start adjusting equipment and a music stand Holter steadied herself and began an 80 minute set that started with a measured and almost rigid feel and ended in a rousing avant-jazz trip complete with wordless incantations and splintering melodies and rhythms. In the interim Holter showcased this year’s Have You In My Wilderness album with the light-stepping Silhouette a particular highlight as well as musically compatible selections from her earlier albums. Holter has slowly become more confident on-stage since her earlier Australian visits, this time chatting, laughing and making wry song introductions that gave the more avant garde songs glimpses of context. Though the first half of the set too often displayed the conservatorium roots of its composer, the second 40 minutes became richer, more resonant and full-blooded as the mood lightened and the musicians began to sweat and loosen their shoulders. Holter’s recorded music is progressive and avant-pop music but her live set effectively added another layer of personality and approachability to her unique and otherworldly songs.

Chris Familton

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