When I walked into the Teragram Ballroom on Saturday, I was greeted by a sole guitarist onstage, with hair completely covering her eyes and nose like a shell. She strained to whisper vocals that more resembled wails into a lonely microphone. Experimental finger-picking guitarist Circuit des Yeux is Julia Holter’s traveling opener and she set the tone for a perfectly understated concert in LA that night.
Haley Fohr is Chicago-based Circuit des Yeux, an experimental musician that immediately grabs your attention. When my friends and I found a spot in the crowd and allowed ourselves to be immersed in the music, we realized just what we were in for that night. Fohr began viciously strumming her guitar, to the point where I was nervous a string was going to snap off. When she sang lyrics other than cathartic shouts or unintelligible murmurs, she used a pitch reminiscent of Scott Walker’s collaboration with Sunn O))), making me both uneasy and awestruck. The room didn’t move or even breathe until she fell silent, and that’s when everyone took their cue to applaud.
Between sets, we had time to appreciate how sparse the stage was. There was a keyboard front and center with drums directly behind, and a mic off to the right. There was no backdrop to hide the exposed concrete on the wall behind the stage. At this point, we could not have known how Julia Holter and her band would steal our attention, all without any significant props or distractions.
Holter’s most recent album, Have You in My Wilderness, was one of the best of the year and we were happy to hear many tracks off of that release at the Teragram, but the set was refreshingly diverse. Though Holter has only been active with her solo project for about six years, she has released four LPs and had plenty of material to share with us that night.
Holter played keys and what she described as a fake harpsichord (“I want to get a real harpsichord really soon!” she told us), and directly behind her sat the drums. Standing stage left was a violist who also sang back up, and over stage right was the upright bassist who I would catch singing along with Julia every now and again despite not actually providing any backing vocals. They made a swell team, all listening carefully to one another as they played, culminating beautifully during the first song of the encore, one that Julia called her favorite to perform. It was “Vasquez,” an enduring freeform track that also was the penultimate on Wilderness. By the end of it, the band had gotten a chance to lose themselves in their instruments and when they snapped back to reality, they had one more song left in them. The night ended with the liberating “Sea Calls Me Home.”
Between Julia and her three bandmates, they made a sound that filled the Teragram, but what I noticed was that this was probably the first non-electronic act in a long while that I’ve seen perform without a guitarist. All I could think was, how could I not have known that? Her music has a unique and singular feel, and truthfully, the band achieved this unity onstage. This small detail among many other impressive facets of the show made it one that we likely won’t forget anytime soon.
Words: Zoë Elaine
Photography: Danielle Gornbein