Julien Baker, the goosebumps-inducing indie singer/songwriter/miracle worker from Tennessee, wasn’t included on either of the major festival lineups yesterday, which is absolutely for the best. She thrives in environments with total audience attention and dead silence, like, I don’t know, The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.
Baker made her late-night TV debut Wednesday on Colbert, and it was every bit as special as someone who’s caught one of her live shows will tell you. Performing the title track from her excellent second album, Turn Out the Lights, Baker didn’t tweak the formula very much from what you’d see in person. It’s a sparse setup—Baker extracting her soul with nothing more than her guitar, a dozen pedals, and an array of lights. “Turn Out the Lights” might be the best possible showcase of how Baker can be a one-person orchestra, with a stronger grasp on swelling dynamics than just about anyone in indie rock. Oh, and she’s got an American Idol-caliber voice to back it up. You’ll feel things. I promise.
When I think about my favorite late-night performances, it’s usually the ones that either a.) utilize the space to create a spectacle impossible to convey in a traditional live setting or b.) capture the immediacy of the live show with way better sight-lines. Baker’s performance was not a showy scene-stealer like Future Islands’ take on the same stage four years ago, but I can’t help but imagine Baker’s Late Show debut converting similarly agnostic viewers.
Watch the video above, and welcome to the cult of Julien.