It’s Friday night and Manchester city centre is buzzing. The sun has accompanied these first few days of Spring and the effects are tangible as the fine people of the North West appear to be emerging from their Winter hibernation in the mood for fun in this bustling metropolis. Julia Jacklin’s set in Yes’ Pink Room could therefore be construed as a risk. Her vital sophomore album Crushing is a cerebral and emotional experience and it requires effort and thoughtful contemplation to appreciate its rich, complex and revealing narratives. Essentially, it requires us all to respectfully listen; thankfully this sold out venue is completely aware of these responsibilities and the outcome is mesmerising.
Opening with the quietly rancourous ‘Body’ signifies the approach that much of the evening will adopt. Musically subtle but lyrically disarming, Jacklin’s understated vocals cause a reverential silence to descend as we allow the candid narrative to ethereally unfold. ‘Eastwick’ may be vocally sweet but it retains a tender air of fragility which is enhanced by the almost-country twang of the song’s guitar, and this continues on ‘Leadlight’ and ‘Motherland’, even though these older tracks from debut Don’t Let The Kids Win, showcase a more coruscating vocal performance from Jacklin.
The delicate filaments of this show return for one of the highlights off the new record. ‘Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You’ opens with recognisable nuance. Jacklin’s vocals are clear and sharp but as the details of this doomed relationship are revealed, the guitar is more abrasive and Julia becomes more strident. What makes this moment so incredibly affecting is the Sydney native’s ability to maintain the flawlessly rich qualities of her voice as this relationship starts to crack under the pressure. The song is clearly a challenge; Jacklin is misty-eyed throughout and this emotion is mirrored by the equally immaculate crowd who observe in silent reverence. Thankfully, the more breezy tone of ‘Turn Me Down’ allows us all to recover slightly before much of the band depart as the funereal ‘When the Family Flies In’ retreats back to the shadows. This may all sound a bit bleak, but the vocal sincerity and musical tenderness make it impossible to not be enthralled by it all.
The social conscience of ‘Don’t Let the Kids Win’ demonstrates her visual prowess, which is allowed to take centre stage amidst the solemn musical accompaniment. Recognising that we’re ready for a shift in gears, ‘You Were Right’ adds some welcome tempo and skittish fervour to proceedings. Even in these more agitated moments on the setlist, Jacklin’s vocals never seem to waver. The song also seems to signify and shift in an overall tone. The alt-country flavours are enhanced, the guitar more forceful and the drums more fluid. There’s a satisfying rhythm emerging as we head towards our denouement which the final two tracks seal with typically personal vigour. ‘Head Alone’ and ‘Pressure to Party’ are the vital release which this immaculate performance has been building up to. The band become unshackled and despite the personal dilemmas the songs may address, Jacklin also seems released.
The evening is ultimately a beautiful one and the early focus on moments of such heartbreaking sincerity have been rewarded by these final moments of musical liberation. It proves to be an example of inspired setlist design which we perhaps only really appreciate as we spill out on to the inharmonious Manchester streets outside.
Words & Images by Iain Fox