Live: Pop Meets The Avant-Garde In Julia Holter’s New York Debut


Julia Holter
(le) poisson rouge
Tuesday, March 6

Better than: A night at the symphony.

In the 1980s, New York icon Laurie Anderson charted the territory between contemporary classical and pop with records made for the art world but in possession of a mainstream sensibility, and performances made for the rock club that also contained concert-hall theatrics. The new album from rising avant-pop musician Julia Holter, Ekstasis (RVNG Intl.), carries on in this tradition, and last night she made her New York live debut at (le) poisson rouge—the ideal venue for her aesthetic.

Holter hails from Los Angeles, where she studied music composition and honed a sophisticated approach to DIY recording. Her compositions are smart but not pretentious, employing strings, piano, and synthesizers to create a subtle and clever foundation over which her heavenly soprano can soar. “I can see you but my eyes are not allowed to cry” is a lyrical passage from “Goddess Eyes” and an appropriation from a play by Euripides—an example of Holter drawing from a heady source, but flipping in on its head with a spin of modernity. On record, this line is sung through a vocoder, and the resulting robotic voice places the Euripides citation in a completely unexpected sonic context.

On stage, Holter gently commanded her band with elegance and ease, playing a rack of keyboards while singing and gazing into the audience. Her backing percussionist and cellist did a magnificent job or reinforcing the orchestral slant behind Holter’s arrangements. The performance covered most of Ekstasis‘s sixty minutes, and the show’s subdued energy washed over the crowd in a tranquil, dreamlike fashion, giving the room a taste of a blossoming composer with an enormously promising career ahead of her.

(Listen to the show at NPR.)

Critical bias: Anyone who puts a modern spin on both classical and pop has already earned my support.

Overheard: “Even better than the record!”

Random notebook dump: Holter’s whimsical, yet composed vibe brings to mind fellow Angelean Miranda July.