As the opening act for Julia Holter at the Cobalt on February 4, Circuit Des Yeux did an impressive job of ripping through the distracted din of the crowd. Haley Fohr, the creator of Circuit Des Yeux, performed the set solo, with the help of only a 12 string guitar and a few pedals. Starting slowly, Fohr carefully picked at each string on the guitar with intent, glancing up at the crowd every so often from behind a dark mass of hair. She was focused and sincere – but also reserved, and distant, as if she were mentally removed from the space itself.
As the songs grew heavier, Fohr’s skill on the guitar was clear. It is likely this would have been the most captivating part of her performance, had the increasing intensity of her deep vocals not demanded all of my attention. As the set progressed, these vocals became almost weaponized, growing louder until Fohr was nearly screaming into the microphone.
Toward the end of her set, I was surprised when she paused to address the crowd: “You guys are not easy to win over, are you?” before returning her focus to performing. At the peak of her final song, the crowd, perhaps overly excited for the next act, began to clap prematurely. To my delight, she replied to this with a severe “shhhhhh.” The song concluded as Fohr slowly lowered to the floor, half-yelling, half-snarling into the microphone, holding herself at the centre of a jarring yet mesmerizing collection of noise.
When Julia Holter came on stage, I was curious to see if she would be able to further diminish the chatter and fuss in the Cobalt. By the time Holter’s smooth, sharp vocals came to the end of the first song, the room was beautifully silent.
For the set, Holter was joined by a drummer, a bassist on an upright bass, and an electric viola player. Each musician seemed to be in their own private world on stage, consumed by their creations. And yet, they had no problem fitting these worlds together and bringing the electronic, pop and sometimes unsettling sounds of Holter’s songs to life. Holter herself was a confident and relaxed performer, but like Fohr before her, she seemed to be in a place other than the Cobalt. Her gaze rested slightly above the crowd throughout the performance, as if she were performing to a different crowd, city, memory.
The band ran through several tracks from Holter’s fantastic new album Have You in My Wilderness including “Lucette Stranded on an Island” and “Betsy on the Roof” as well as Tragedy’s “So Lillies.” Watching the set, the satisfaction of Holter’s compositions was made clear. Her songs built up towards a seemingly unavoidable mess of noise, threatening a breakdown. But before they could reach this moment, Holter swept in and directed them to a carefully constructed finish. As the performance came to an end, Holter commended the crowd for their attention, going so far as to claim that people seemed hypnotized. Judging by the silence in the room, I had to agree. I definitely was.