Julia Jacklin brings heart-wrenching folk songs on tour

Julia Jacklin performs at the Somerville Theatre on Nov. 9. Myshko Chumak / The Tufts Daily

Going through a breakup? Missing an ex? Just feeling a crushing, existential loneliness and wanting to curl up in bed and be emo for an hour or so? Or, are you perfectly content and satisfied by your relationships and just want to hear some impactful, to-the-point but powerful music? Look no further — Julia Jacklin’s got you covered.

The Australian singer-songwriter rose to prominence with indie sad-girl anthem “Pool Party” (2016) and her dreamy, melancholy cover of The Strokes’ “Someday” (2001) released earlier this year. Jacklin recently embarked on a multi-national tour alongside Americana singer Christian Lee Hutson, who was also put on the radar for many when he opened for Better Oblivion Community Center earlier this year. Hutson and Jacklin stopped by Somerville Theatre on Nov. 9, a strangely luxe venue for musicians that seems more suited for the likes of Great Scott or The Sinclair.

After everyone had made it to their plush, assigned theater seats, Hutson opened the show with a beautiful, simple set, devoid of any flashy theatrics — instead, it was just a man and his guitar.

“I’m gonna play the hard one first,” remarked Hutson after tuning.

Hutson followed his opening track with “I Have to Keep You Down” (2016), a twangy, slow number that perfectly encapsulates the tragic desperation one feels when they know they’ll be left behind by a lover. When he croons, “It isn’t hard to imagine that you won’t need me someday / cause I know something that you don’t / you never did anyway,” before picking the tempo up into an equally tragic chorus, it’s impossible not to feel the deep, dull sadness of a doomed love. His subsequent belting of the line, “I have to keep you down,” some of the most commanding vocals in any of his songs, draws the ear to the clinging need for love of the doomed lover and their willingness to “keep down” their lover as to not lose them.

After taking some time to banter with the audience about any movies they had seen recently (spurred from the fact that the concert was in, well, a movie theater) and discussing the merits of Bong Joon-ho’s “Parasite” (2019), Hutson announced that his next album, produced by friend and collaborator Phoebe Bridgers with whom he toured earlier in 2019, is slated to release in April of 2020. 

Shortly after this news, he invited a band consisting of Julia Jacklin and her bassist and lead guitarist onstage. “We started a band the other night; we’re called Deep Heat,” announced Hutson. Hutson closed out the set with two final tracks, starting with, “I Just Can’t Fucking Do It Anymore” (2016), a thoroughly depressing but charming bluegrass number about giving up on a relationship.

The final track, “Northsiders” (2019), which is the first single off Hutson’s upcoming album, is an uncharacteristic track for Hutson. Sure, the folk guitar is there, but it isn’t his normal slow, sorrowful song. Instead, it begins as a nostalgic but comedic look back onto romance between two indie kids. Some select mockeries of Huston’s teenage self include, “Tried cocaine at my cousin’s house / Yeah, I’m probably addicted now” and “Said that we were communists / And thought that we invented it.” About halfway through the track, the lyrics fully shift into Hutson’s trademark brand of gloom, as they recount one of the lovers dying young after spending time away from the other.

Jacklin followed Hutson with a set consisting primarily of tracks off her most recent album, the lulling and playfully titled “Crushing” (2019), a play on the term’s dual meanings; the songs are all about love, but not the beautiful parts. Instead, “Crushing” chronicles all the painful, gut-wrenching parts of love and the loss of it.

Jacklin opened the set with “Comfort” (2019), a lullaby-esque track whose minimalist guitar and crooning vocals are reminiscent of Connie Converse, Julia Byrne and other to-the-point singer-songwriters. The shift from “You’ll be okay” to “He’ll be just fine” in the first and second verses, respectively, followed by a final shift to “I’ll be okay” is immensely effective in portraying the complexity of the narrator’s grief for the relationship she ended. The lack of overly flowery language and simplicity of Jacklin’s lyrics allow for all aspects of the song to convey her sadness, not just the words themselves.

Jacklin continued with “Body” (2018), a narrative track simmering with quiet anger about Jacklin’s lover exploiting and objectifying her. “Leadlight,” a song from Jacklin’s first EP “Don’t Let The Kids Win” (2016), followed.

The ensuing “Turn Me Down” (2019), a gut-wrenching number with heavy rhythm guitar and pleading, repetitive calls of “turn me down,” was the musical equivalent of Jacklin ripping her heart out onstage and holding it for the audience to see. It was around this point in the show that tears started to flow down audience members’ faces. Concurrently, it became clear that no matter how good Jacklin sounds on her records, it can’t even come close to experiencing her vocals live. Her arresting vocal control and full tone truly aren’t done justice on “Crushing” — on the record, she can sing. In person, she can sing.

After her bandmates departed offstage, Jacklin played “Convention” (2019) as a solo song, finger-plucking gently with hazy vocals floating overtop. Next was “Good Guy” (2019), a slow track about just wanting love, even if you know its not real — just being told that you’re loved, regardless of the truth of the statement, is good enough. She followed with “Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You” (2019), her second most-streamed song on Spotify and another prime example of how Jacklin’s impressive vocal skills give another rich dimension to her already evocative lyrics. She gains vocal strength and is increasingly daring with the notes she hits each time she calls out, “Don’t know how to keep loving you / now that I know you so well.”

Jacklin began to approach the end of her set with her blues-tinged “Pool Party,” a song that wouldn’t feel out of place alongside Johnny Cash tracks. “Pressure to Party” (2019) follows, a bouncy, mildly-manic number where Jacklin laments the trials of attending a party newly single, and all of the expectations on how to conduct herself.

In her encore, Jacklin played her most melancholy and straight-up depressing song of the night (which is saying something because “Good Guy”and “Turn Me Down” pull some serious heartstrings), “Don’t Let The Kids Win” (2016), the titular track off her first album. The track is simple — just guitar and vocals — but the universality of the lyrics and the angst of youth disappearing that anyone can empathize with gets the waterworks going. By the time people were leaving the show, the majority were wiping tear stains from their faces.