Julia Jacklin – The Forum, Melbourne (14/3/19)

It took Julia Jacklin exactly one verse of ‘Body’, the lead single and album opener of Crushing, the album which tonight’s show would launch, to settle into the mesmerising groove in which she remained for the entirety of her performance. With a four-piece band behind her, Jacklin’s effortlessly pretty voice expressed longing, ache and disquiet while managing to feel celebratory and assured at the same time.

By now a seasoned musician who has spent the last few years touring internationally, the evening’s purpose brought back memories of the launch of her first album at the much smaller venue of Howler in 2016. Crushing is by no means a stylistic leap from Don’t Let the Kids Win, rather a logical continuation, which in itself is an affirmation of the strength of Jacklin’s originality. A slick sophomore release with a name producer would have been the textbook career move, but instead she was singing another collection of folk songs about self doubt and understanding, but this time to a sold out Forum Theatre.

“Every time I play that song and it gets to the solo it hits me, the absurdity of what I’m doing for a living. In a good way,” she says after ‘Pool Party’, the song that first introduced her to the world. “I’m playing guitar onstage with my friends and people like it.

“Anyway,” she broke off with a self-deprecating smile. “That was cheesy.”

Staring into space as she sang, Jacklin remained focused and serious throughout, and the audience, who were of a notably diverse age demographic, hung on her every line, whether singing along or in hushed reverence. Calls of ‘I love you!’ peppered the breaks, which were acknowledged with a polite ‘Thank you’.

Not one for stage talk, Jacklin allowed her songs to speak for her, and it was particularly the slower numbers that best communicated her success as a pop writer. The way in which she constructs each moment around a strong melody and then arranges it in a way that remains sympathetic to the song and its emotion goes a great way to explaining her broad popularity. She’s subtle and knows exactly what she’s doing.

“I want to say a big thank you to Robert Muinos,” said Jacklin, acknowledging the opening act. “I specifically asked Rob to play tonight so I could see them, I listened to his music a lot when making this record.”

Muinos and his band (Tom Pettit, Olaf Scott, Matt Dixon and Jim Lawrie) had opened the show with a bang, delivering introspective folk songs with passion, taste and volume. Muinos’ plain Australian accent added poignancy to his phrasing and lyrics, which helped the music avoid the potential of Americana cliché`, and while at times his highly distorted guitar and Scott’s organ overwhelmed the band, it was also pretty badass.

Olympia, however, stood out in awkward contrast to the two acts she was placed between. A highly talented artist whose praises I have sung several times in these pages, Olympia’s vision appears made for a bigger, broader pop canvas than that of the small detail and fragile doubt of Jacklin’s music, and was ill fitting as the main support. The stripped back trio format furthermore revealed the extent to which her songs rely on their arrangements and the use of backing tracks to flesh out the sound seemed an odd decision.

After dedicating a voice and piano rendition of ‘When the Family Flies In’ to Adrian Slattery, the late frontman of Melbourne’s Big Smoke, Jacklin and the band ramped things up with a succession of upbeat songs, including the singles ‘Head Alone’, ‘Pressure to Party’ and the aforementioned ‘Pool Party’. It was only during these moments of power pop energy with which she closed the show that Jacklin allowed herself to loosen up enough to smile whilst singing and to sway, ever so slightly, to the sweet, sad music she has given to the world.

Originally published in Beat Magazine.

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