Julie Byrne melted hearts at Liverpool’s Studio 2 with an ethereal and orchestral set, and Getintothis’ Simon Kirk was there to witness her gracious performance in the intimate setting.
With the heat scorching off the Parr Street cobbles, it was nice to escape the burning sun for the tranquil surroundings of Studio 2 where American bohemian drifter, Julie Byrne, was set to enchant her listeners.
Byrne’s latest album, Not Even Happiness, garnered widespread critical acclaim, featuring in various year-end top 10 lists. It’s a pleasure that Byrne is not only playing a show in Liverpool, but equally an intimate venue such as Parr Street’s Studio 2.
Hailing from the outskirts of Sheffield, Jim Ghedi opens up the show. It’s his first show in Liverpool and needless to say, Ghedi doesn’t disappoint, employing a brand of folk that will undoubtedly draw comparisons to the likes of William Tyler and Chuck Johnson. However, Ghedi skilfully carves out a locality few of his contemporaries can boast, drawing inspiration from the blue-collar industries (namely mining), which dominated the villages around the Sheffield area back in the 1970s.
His performance is impressive and the cuts played from his new album, A Hymn for Ancient Land (highlights including Home for Moss Valley and Phoenix Works), provide pleasure to the temporary residents of Studio 2. Ghedi’s set ensures that things are now very much on the boil for the main course.
Soon after, the willowy Byrne arrives onstage, picking up her acoustic guitar. Like her music, even Julie Byrne’s subtle actions hold an unremitting grace. Her smile is warm and genuine and any nervousness that previously filled the intimate space has been replaced with a collective ease.
Ethereal and orchestral, listening to Byrne is almost like a cosmic delusion as her fingers elegantly shift up and down the fretboard during opener, The Prism Song.
Although the songs that form Not Even Happiness are very strong, since its release, something hasn’t sat right with me. In fact, it’s been like an itch you couldn’t scratch.
Rooms with Walls and Windows was such a strong album and I just felt something seemed off with its successor. Seeing Byrne in the live milieu has finally provided a certain clarity regarding this matter. Production.
In theory, delicate strings and synths should work well alongside Byrne’s supple otherworldly voice and while NEH is good, Byrne’s work feels more organic when it’s just her with guitar intact.
Live, tracks such as Melting Grid and Sea as it Glides sound stunning and project the same energy which made RwWaW such a gorgeous accomplishment. The former number is a real snapshot of Byrne’s persona, forming an imagery of American landscapes that a lot of her contemporaries continue to discard – places such as Kansas, Arkansas, Wyoming and Montana. These are places that people dream of escaping, but prove to be Byrne’s sweet spot and throughout the brilliant Melting Grid, she unravels her story seamlessly.
After gliding through most of the set, which also includes a brilliant cover of Jackson Browne & Nico’s These Days, Byrne announces that Follow My Voice is a “song about tripping on LSD and taking the A train”. This is simply a humorous attempt to masquerade the true essence of the song, which in reality is a close to the bone love song and probably the best one she’s written to date.
After melting hearts with Follow My Voice, Byrne then closes with another crowd favourite, Sleepwalker. Thanking the crowd and exiting the stage, Byrne then occupies the merchandise table where she greets her devotees with the same warmth and enthusiasm she possessed up onstage.
Julie Byrne’s music is captured perfectly in the live arena. While Byrne makes music geared for outsiders and drifters alike, her poignant ruminations also have the ability to draw people outside of this paradigm in. Ultimately, this is what makes her a special artist.
Perhaps Byrne sums it up best on Follow My Voice when she sings “I was made for the green, made to be alone.” Some of us are more alone than others, but tonight it was comforting to be anything but that.
Pictures by Getintothis’ Paul Wills