Arts concert review

Julia Holter’s exquisite live performance

The experimental L.A.-based musician visits Boston following the release of her latest album

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Julia Holter performed in Allston’s Great Scott on March 6 following the release of her album Have You in My Wilderness.
Courtesy of tonje thilesen

Julia Holter

Opening Act: Circuit des Yeux

North American tour

March 6, 2016

Great Scott, Allston, MA

After the captivating live rendition of “Goddess Eyes I,” Julia Holter smiled to the audience and remarked that the only thing she could see that night in the background of Allston’s dimly-lit Great Scott was the live stream of former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and Senator Bernie Sanders’ Democratic presidential debate on TV. The audience immediately burst into laughter.

As the debate was taking place, Holter and her band mesmerized Boston with their celestial and enchanting music as part of Holter’s North American tour with Haley Fohr, otherwise known as Circuit des Yeux. With a diverse setlist showcasing songs from both her latest and earliest records, and an amusing band of talented musicians, Holter’s concert was nothing short of excellent.

Haley Fohr, the main pillar of the eerily charming music act Circuit des Yeux, opened the show in the densely crowded and intimate Great Scott. Those who have been following Fohr’s career will know that she is not a newcomer to the music scene, but those who are hearing the name Circuit des Yeux for the first time will likely find the singer-songwriter’s music unexpectedly haunting and, at the same time, undoubtedly riveting. With her slender physique and long hair that covered her face throughout most of the show, Fohr at first might seem like a timid performer, but her resonating baritone voice and ecstatic blend of goth, folk, and rock music will leave any audience member in awe.

The stark contrast between Fohr’s and Holter’s live music and appearances was one of the most striking and well-employed aspects of the show. Whereas Holter’s live music and performance are dominated by a sense of transcendental peacefulness and childlike playfulness, Fohr’s music and stage persona can easily evoke feelings of fear and even horror, which might make Circuit des Yeux seem like an unnatural choice of an opener. This juxtaposition, however, served as a wonderful segue when Holter and her band joined Fohr on stage to collectively perform a cover. In those few minutes, Holter’s serene and Fohr’s tempestuous vocals provided an unlikely but successful auditory synergy that completely justified the disparity between the opening and main act.

After a few minutes of setup and stage readjustment, Holter and her band — consisting of Dina Maccabee (viola, vocals), Devin Hoff (bass), and Corey Fogel (drums, vocals) — took over and opened the setlist with “Silhouette” from her latest record. Smoothly transitioning from Have You in My Wilderness and Loud City Song to Holter’s older albums Tragedy and Ekstasis, the quartet delivered a laid-back but nonetheless astonishing performance. The intimate setting of Great Scott, where murmur and vocal cues between Holter and the band members were easily heard across the space, bolstered the quality of their performance. Embracing the physical closeness to the audience, the band fully surrendered to the present moment and allowed their body language to closely mimic the diverse rhythmic portfolio of Holter’s songs.

The greatest value in seeing Julia Holter perform live, however, was witnessing the alluring orchestration and vocal harmonization from the studio recordings come to life in a concert setting. While some of the acoustic charm was naturally lost in this process of translation, Holter’s band added a new, entertaining twist to Holter’s songs. This adaptation was most easily notable in live performances of songs like “Horns Surrounding Me” and “Sea Calls Me Home.” The studio version of “Horns Surrounding Me” can be easily described as claustrophobic and agonizing, but the live version of the song was successfully transformed into a low-key dance gem. Similarly, the soothing feel of “Sea Calls Me Home” was amplified in the live setting when Holter and the band captivated the audience with blissful harmonizing and whistling.

Holter is taking a short break from touring until May 27, when she will perform at Gorge Amphitheatre in George, WA, followed by shows in Belgium, Canada, Oregon, and Sweden. If you get a chance to see her and the band perform live, be sure not to miss them — you will be transported to a world of sublime surrealism that only Julia Holter is capable of constructing.