This Saturday, the Cedar Cultural Center hosted Julia Jacklin and Christian Lee Hutson for a night all of us in attendance will never forget
The show began with a solo acoustic set by Los Angeles’ own Christian Lee Hutson. The singer, doning shaggy blonde locks and a knit sweater, sat with his acoustic guitar at center stage. The first words that came out of his mouth were ‘I’m gonna do the hard song first so I don’t have to think about it for the rest of the set’. This level of honesty was expected by many of us who are familiar with his music. What made Hutson and Jacklin such a perfect pairing to begin with was that their words are both very captivating and extremely honest. He began his set and although he depicted this song as a difficult one for him, he executed it flawlessly. The intimacy of him sitting alone with his guitar made you want to root for him. He was saying what we as an audience had felt before. Whether audience members knew him or not coming into the evening, we then knew exactly where he was coming from.
Christian played a collective of songs such as his 2019 hit single ‘Northsiders’ as well as some older pieces like ‘I Just Can’t Fucking Do It Anymore’. In this song, Hutson chants the title tirelessly until his voice sounds as though he’s run dry on the idea of it. It was this extra character added in Hutson’s writing of the song that brought his songs from good to great. The audience stared back at him and connected deeply to what he was saying. In between songs, Hutson asked the audience for random questions, some of which included ‘when did your parents stop dressing you?’ and ‘what are your favorite conspiracies?’. The audience laughed along as he addressed some of these ridiculous questions in a serious, yet humorous way. Hutson continued by telling the audience his favorite sub-Reddit thread which highlights how Paul McCartney has never been seen drinking water on stage. An audience member chimed in saying it was because McCartney was dead, and everyone including Hutson laughed together. He was only a few songs deep into the set and everyone was already laughing along like they were catching up with an old friend.
Towards the end of his set, Hutson brought out his new band, ‘Deep Heat’; a group compiled of Hutson, Julia Jacklin and her band. They all played a song about a musician friend of Hutson’s who gave up playing in a band to work a stable day job and his regret in doing so. While watching Deep Heat, it was clear that all of the members got along great. They laughed along to the song together and made us all feel like we were jamming along with them. Overall, it was impossible not to love Hutson’s entire set. The audience all loved him for his dry humor and connectivity. Hutson soon cleared the stage and made way for a continuation of storytelling from Jacklin.
Julia changed out of the regular clothes she wore from her time drumming for Deep Heat and returned to the stage accompanied by loud cheers. She walked out like a princess: wearing a pink satin gown with ruffled pink sleeves capping the shoulders. It was just her and a light yellow telecaster facing the audience now, and as quiet as we now all were, we were more than ready for her. She began her set with her song ‘Comfort’. Maybe it had something to do with the dress and the disco ball now twirling above, but this particular song felt like it was a story of someone getting stood-up at the prom. Jacklin herself said the atmosphere of the venue reminded her of a school dance later in the set. The lyrics also indicated the visual of maybe crying in the school bathroom, sitting on the floor in her gown and convincing oneself of better times ahead. “You’ll be okay, you’ll be alright. You’ll get well soon, sleep through the night”. Starting the set with a solo confessional accompanied by almost weeping vocals was exactly what we all love about Jacklin. We all have moments like this, whether it be at the high school prom or somewhere else. Her words are universal and no matter how many people are in the room, we feel spoken to personally.
Jacklin’s band joined onstage to continue the rest of the set. Next up was ‘Body’, one of the first singles off of Jacklin’s most recent record, ‘Crushing’. The song tells the story of separating from a partner who continually prioritized their own needs—even going as far as saying this person was kicked off a plane for smoking and acted like a child when officers arrived to take him away. Where the title ‘Body’ comes into play is when she depicts her discomfort in knowing this same man once had nude photos of her. She fears where they’ll end up, but in the end, she knows that to him it’s ‘just her life’ and ‘just her body’. The driving drum beat on stage pounded in everyone’s chest as she told the story which already floated over our hearts. Everyone in the room swayed along with Jacklin and with glossed over eyes. It felt impossible to look away.
Julia continued through her set with a few specifically dedicated songs. The waltz-y, back catalogue tune ‘Cold Caller’ was dedicated to Jacklin’s sister Emma. She also played her song ‘Good Guy’, which was dedicated for anyone who was “a fan of The Notebook and users of Tinder”. Although these two entirely separate things, it made sense to everyone for some reason, like maybe we all were like that sometimes. The dedication sprinkled a light laughter around the room of people otherwise captivated in songs of failed past relationships and heartbreak.
On top of her already killer voice, guitar playing, and lyrics, there was something about Jacklin’s chords changes that equally spelled out the emotion of her songs before she even spoke a word. This kind of power could only be honed by someone who really knows how to connect what’s being heard and what’s underneath that. It’s a powerful weapon that otherwise might be hard for some songwriters to access. Jacklin loaded her set with these mellowed out, haunting songs of being alone, but also delivered a flip-side of dance-y, soul-belting renditions of the same emotion. At this point in the show I wondered to myself, is there something Julia Jacklin can’t do? The answer is no.
To add to the singer’s quirky likeability, Jacklin and her band told the story of their current tour mascot, an abacus they found on the side of a dumpster in Austin, TX. The group even went as far to have the audience guess how many skittles were in a jar in order to win it. After a few minutes of shouted numbers, an audience member guessed closely and won the signed abacus to take home. It was a funny and light-hearted exchange for the crowd to interact in. Almost without warning, Jacklin proceeded with undoubtedly one of her most popular and heartbreaking songs, ‘Don’t Know How To Keep Loving You’. The disco ball lit back up, and within seconds, all of us in the Cedar were brought back down to earth to cry in our prom dresses on the bathroom floor (in the best way possible).
Finishing up the body of the set, Jacklin and her band danced and belted along songs like ‘Pool Party’, ‘Head Alone’, and ‘Pressure to Party’. It’s impossible not to love Julia after hearing her sing. Her vulnerability and clarity in her storytelling made everyone in the room feel like they just heard the life story of a new friend in the most poetic way. It’s that vulnerability that makes it impossible not to root for her. When she’s happy, we’re happy. When she’s sad, we’re sad. Jacklin and her band then exited the stage and the crowd roared louder than it had the entire evening. We wanted them back and sure enough, Jacklin had two more songs up her pink-ruffled sleeve for us.
As a new-ish fan of Julia Jacklin, I have found myself very familiar with her most recent record and singles as they’ve been featured on the Current quite frequently, but if there was one song that struck me like no other on Saturday, it was a song off of her first record that I had never heard before. The song, ‘Don’t Let The Kids Win’, off the record of the same name, centered around aging and being okay with the fast changing world around us. Jacklin cried lines such as ‘don’t let your grandmother die while you’re away, a cheap trip to Thailand’s not gonna make up for never getting to say goodbye’. Surely, Jacklin’s heavenly yet haunting voice had us feel as though we were floating with her in the room, but what made this song special was her reminding us that at times life is better grounded on earth. We get time that we eventually can’t make back, so we spend it with the ones we love even through those same relationships are bound to warp and change. Yes, Jacklin points out the sadness in growing old, but we as a collective hear our stories and songs in her music. We all come from different backgrounds and yet we all cross paths, share our stories, and continue onward with our lives. Her final words in the song acted as a closing line for her evening with us, ‘I don’t know anything except the more I keep on talking the less breath I’ve got left to sing’. A silence fell over the crowd for a split second after the song finished, as we all processed the advice. Suddenly, a roar of applause thundered throughout the room. Soon enough, the rest of Deep Heat, including Christian Lee Hutson returned to the stage for one final tune that evening. The song? Avril Lavigne’s 2002 classic ‘I’m With You’.
Suddenly, it felt like we were all singing karaoke with our best friends at a bar on a Saturday night. The crowd swayed harmoniously and Jacklin continued to belt for us one last time. Her skill of articulating and putting the right emphasis on what she says didn’t stop because she didn’t write the words. It came across as real and it came across as her own song without even trying.
Although Jacklin performed the entire set effortlessly in her Princess Peach-esque gown, what made her a queen was her honesty and inability to change for anyone. She still wore her hair naturally, as it is in her most recent album, ‘Crushing’’s cover. She also wore a makeup free face. When we look at Jacklin, we see ourselves: someone with feelings, pain, and love in their heart. The audience roots for both Jacklin and Hutson because we can all see ourselves in them; no matter who we are, where we come from, or how old we are. They’re both messengers and craftsmen of the human experience and replicate just how tolling it is being a part of it.
I can’t imagine a better way I could’ve spent my Saturday night, and I can’t wait to hear the music they both continue to make. Surely, no matter what it is, we will all carry it along with us on the rest of our journey through life.