REVIEW: Julia Jacklin brings her wisdom to Chicago's Schubas

by Mackenzie Werner

Julia Jacklin just drips with charm; from the masking tape on her guitar -- telling her she can do it(!), to her inability to fight off a fit of laughter halfway through one of her saddest, quietest songs. She carries the presence of someone you could sit comfortably with in silence, she seems like she gives good advice. She carries exceptional Big Sister Energy: she doesn’t have it all figured out, but she’s one step ahead and offering comfort and wisdom from the path.

The first thing about Julia that should be noted is her exceptional taste, which was on full display with her choice of Black Belt Eagle Scout as the tour opener. Black Belt Eagle Scout front-woman Katherine Paul and her accompanying band did a wonderful job of warming the room with tight instrumentation, dynamic vocals, and no shortage of shredding. Katherine is easily one of the best guitarists I’ve seen live and if you haven’t heard or seen her you should find a way to do that soon. They released their debut album Mother of My Children last year on Saddle Creek.

(A second notable example of taste was Jacklin’s sporting of Blundstone boots, which hail from her native Australia. I’ve seen her in these boots in every press photo and live appearance for the last three  years and have to admit I broke down last winter and bought a pair on her implied recommendation, they’re incredible and I wear them every day now too. Thanks, Julia!)

Queen of the slow burn, she held the sold-out room at Schuba’s enraptured through a headlining set featuring songs from her exceptional debut album Don’t Let the Kids Win (2016), and newest full-length, aptly titled Crushing (2019), both out now on Secretly Canadian. It was a pleasant surprise to also hear “Eastwick”, a song I’ve played so many times from a 2017 7” release that I was almost surprised to experience it coming from anywhere but my record player. This was just one of the many moments from the evening when I couldn’t wipe a stupid grin from my face.

It’s always special to be in a room practically bursting with people and to realize the sea of spectators is maintaining respectful silence through each song, only interrupted by stray sniffling. I got to experience one of these sniffly moments quite intimately during the song “Turn Me Down”. The final two or so minutes of the song feature Jacklin repeating the words “please just turn me down, why won’t you turn me down”, which build from an almost timid question to an impassioned plea. Singing this live, she gained power with each repetition, clearly belting by the end, while the woman standing directly in front of me slowly progressed from stray tears to open weeping to match the energy coming from the stage. I felt a contact high of cathartic release just from witnessing, and I hope she left that room feeling better than when she entered.

There are places that a good break up record touches you that other records just can’t, in my opinion, and Crushing immediately joined the ranks of the classics when I first heard it. Up there with hard hitters like Kelela’s Take Me Apart and of course Lorde’s Melodrama, both of which were my life rafts during my last big break, Crushing manages to weave in and out of so many emotions that flood you during your rawest moments.

To become acquainted with this exceptional collection of songs is a privilege, and to be able to experience them live in a room full of other hearts that have broken and mended time and again, is an honor. The room was alive with energy with each tune as different people danced harder or screamed louder for the moments that struck them hardest.

There are the high-energy hits like “Pressure to Party”, with the line, “nothing good can come from me drinking, I would run shoes off straight back to you, I know where you live, I used to live there too,” and “You Were Right”, which perfectly captures the feeling that comes weeks or months after a separation when you realize that something you were avoiding trying out (like a restaurant, or a band) at someone else’s suggestion, or maybe insistence, is actually quite enjoyable. It’s hard to describe that comical realization, but she does it in a way that is almost revelatory. Live, it becomes a communal recognition of this phenomenon, we’re allowing ourselves to grow, and we can laugh together. There are also the ballads, like “Don’t Know How to Keep Loving You”, which details the hardest considerations that arise when ending a relationship with someone so close to you that you hardly know who you are without them any longer. Or “Good Guy”, with the lines, “tell me I’m the love of your life just for tonight, even if you don’t mean it,” and, “I don’t care for the truth when I’m lonely”. I could continue on song by song, they’re each fantastic in their own right, but the point is there’s something here for everyone. If your heart is broken, if you’ve ever had your heart broken, whatever stage of healing you’re in, whatever memories you hold, my advice is to  get to a Julia Jacklin live show, and feel it out publicly with 200 strangers.

Click here for all Julia Jacklin tour dates.

Stream Crushing below on Spotify