#SYDFEST Review: Julia Holter

I was a little late to Julia Holter‘s Sunday evening performance at the Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent. (Let’s blame it on Sydney trains not running on time, because I feel that’s a very valid excuse these days.) But from what I gathered, I only missed the opening song of her set.

It was a seated event but I did not realise I could sit anywhere until one of the ushers told me and found me a seat in the dark, near the front of the stage.

It was an impressive turnout for the Los Angeles-based musician, who is known for her avant-garde musical compositions with influences spanning pop and folk to classical music, with only an empty seat here and there from what I could see when the lights scanned across the crowd.

But perhaps the crowd that night was not so impressed?

A few songs in and a handful of people to my right left their seats. Initially, I thought, ‘maybe they’re just going to the bar?’ But then why would the entire row get up and go when the artist is singing right in front of them?

As soon as they left, the people seated behind got up and took their seats. It was a slight disruption for those of us sitting around them but the show continued on as if nothing had happened.

Holter introduced her set to say she would be “playing songs from old times and new times” which ended up being over an hour of haunting, dramatised soundscapes from her 2015 album “Have You in My Wilderness” and her more recent, fifth, album “Aviary” (2018).

Joined on stage by her multi-talented touring band which included artists across drums, horns and strings, creating sprawling soundscapes, Holter performed a lot of songs that were lengthy and drawn out, and some songs would run into the next, making it hard to tell whether or not she had seamlessly switched over to another song or if she was just sound checking for the next with her band.

It’s pretty clear that Holter‘s voice is haunting and melancholy, and her range and scales run pretty impressive but I don’t think it was enough to impress the Sydney crowd that night. Throughout the set, I saw people get up and leave and when her first set ended, more than half of the crowd stood up and left, just as she came back on stage to play a couple more songs for her encore.

It was quite a sad thing to witness, to be completely honest, but hopefully, this won’t deter Holter from returning to our shores and gracing the Sydney stage again soon.

Julia Holter
20 January 2019
Magic Mirrors Spiegeltent

All photos captured by Prudence Upton for Sydney Festival.