Last night’s Democratic presidential debate cast a shadow over the evening’s performances. Great Scott played the debate on the televisions while ticket-holders trickled in and watched in silence as Hilary Clinton and Bernie Sanders went toe-to-toe on topics like gun control and racism. With the fresh scent of politics in the air, Julia Holter and Circuit Des Yeux both felt the need to comment and express their concerns for the upcoming election.
Circuit Des Yeux began their modest set with few instruments, led by guitarist/vocalist Haley Fohr on an acoustic guitar. The Chicago-based project of Fohr mixed alternative rock songs with folk ballads; some songs included distorted guitar riffs, yet Fohr always matched her voice to the guitar. Usually playing solo, Fohr was accompanied by a drummer for a few songs that were more rock than folk, presenting selections off her latest album, last May’s In Plain Speech.
“I’m really excited to invite a bunch of people up for the last song, but I’m going to play this song now,” Fohr said, in a surprisingly higher octave than her singing voice. Fohr takes a very low tone in her slow-moving folk songs that is reminiscent of Patti Smith. After her first song, she mentioned her fondness for Boston, having played here a few times before. While wearing a t-shirt that read “Drone Not Drones”, Fohr mumbled “vote for the right candidate”. For the last song Fohr and Julia Holter sang together accompanied by Holter’s full band. The song must have been lightly rehearsed because between them they held a paper with the lyrics written on it. The improvisational spirit of the song created a tender moment for the musicians who have bonded through touring together enough to want to collaborate.
Up next was Holter, whose September 2015 “baroque pop” album, Have You In My Wilderness, combines folk elements with indie-pop (Holter also contributed to alternative indie band Ducktail’s 2015 release St. Catherine). For her set at Great Scott last night, Holter sang and played the keyboard accompanied by an upright bass, violinist, and light drums. Before playing “Goddess Eyes”, Holter addressed the audience: “I’m going to play an old song off my first record Tragedy, that’s a hint for the die-hard fans,” she joked.
Since the show was sold-out and this is tour is for her fourth studio album, die-hard fans are no joke. When I arrived there were a few fans waiting outside hoping to score someone’s extra ticket. She then told the audience her drummer had something to say and he quoted in his best Bernie Sanders voice: “When I marched for Dr. Martin Luther King…” he said before trailing off. “You thought you were coming to a show tonight,” Holter joked. “You didn’t think you were going to get Sanders”
In the music, Holter exhibited a variety in her vocals that have led music critics to call her “experimental” and “alternative”. Experimental in this case does not mean, “out there” but rather, a wilingess to experiment and create a unique sound while staying true to a folk foundation but incorporating new non-folk elements like electronica and pop. Her latest album is more pop than her other releases, and has thus far been the best received by critics and on the charts. And at a packed house last night in Allston.