Julia Holter @ Summerhall, 10 Dec
Julia Holter squeezes her band on to a snug Dissection Room stage for a set that explores the ethereal and the experimental, and showcases Holter's magisterial vocals
Julia Holter's recent masterpiece Aviary is an expansive endeavour, but it's also remarkably dense across its 90 minutes, filled to the brim with a career's worth of ideas. It seemed that having to pack the six-piece band on to the relatively small Dissection Room stage would be a hindrance tonight, but the close quarters actually manage to foster an intimacy between the music and its performers, its performers and the audience, that is sometimes absent from the record.
The ethereal/experimental dichotomy is explored constantly throughout the performance tonight, as bagpipes give way to luscious, looped harmonies (I Shall Love 1), and dissonant trumpeting intermingles with light-as-air piano (I Would Rather See). Three choice cuts from 2015's Have You In My Wilderness are sprinkled through the set, helping to leaven the frequently intense new songs; Feel You's jaunty keys and wide-eyed curiosity are a nice complement to Words I Heard's hellish dystopia. The main set ends with some of the best examples of Holter's magisterial vocals, with the howls of Betsy on the Roof and the joyous exclamations of I Shall Love 2, before an encore of the supreme Sea Calls Me Home.
Between songs Holter sips white wine and expresses worries about forgetting words, coyly interacting with the band in a way that belies a genuine warmth and enjoyment in their shared artistry. The songs are mostly the self-serious affairs you would expect, but there's an occasional yelp, glance or imitation of a passing siren that show a playfulness with the material, a willingness to follow intuition and enjoy the moment. It all serves to create an easy-going atmosphere, providing insights into these mysterious, musical behemoths, making everything seem a little less daunting.