The Irenic’s primary function is a modest church, but most nights, when the night envelopes San Diego, the holy walls of this institution become the stomping ground for some of music’s most important artists. On January 28th, 2016, Julia Holter and Circuit des Yeux performed at the Polk Avenue venue, bringing a haze of purple lighting as the stage’s backdrop. Immediately to the left of the forum’s doors were a hodgepodge of ice chests, toothpicked with bottles of Stone and Sierra Nevada. Most of the brews were $5.00, a crudely scribbled sign suggested. At a prompt starting time of 7:30, Haley Fohr of Circuit des Yeux appeared on-stage out of what appeared to be nowhere. With a guitar slung over her shoulder, the Indiana born artist stepped in front of the microphone to complete silence. Her thick mane draped over her face, the audience was only able to see her curled lips as she began to sing in a baritone battle cry. Dressed like 1995 Chan Marshall, Fohr’s voice sounded reminiscent of Antony Hegarty as if directed by David Lynch. The booming crescendo of power, lulled from the darkest corners of her voice box, entranced the room. Her diminutive frame and unpretentious performance cast a complete spell on The Irenic’s audience, leaving most bystanders completely moved. It was an almost an out-of-body and ghostly experience, as Fohr slunk, sizzled, and slithered on stage. For me, Circuit des Yeux reinvented what the power of an intimate show could mean. After Fohr’s set, the audience recoiled and talked about what they had seen. A burst of electricity, a specter? Moments later, Julia Holter climbed to the stage with a wry smile, one in which she kept all-night. Before she and her band played “Night Song”, she warned, “I have never played this live.” Still, Holter assured that it would be, at the very worst, “heartfelt” – and it was. The Los Angeles singer played with tempo throughout the night, eyes – more often than not – to the ceiling with a sort of glib smile. There was a real love and unbridled joy to her delivery, one that sparked from her face and hands.
While performances from Holter and Fohr were beautiful, the audience at The Irenic were another thing altogether. One guy, looking eerily like an action figure version of Zachary Quinto, smelled terrible for the duration of the show. He carried a conspicuously large travel bag that, one can only guess, was filled with a two week old clam chowder bread bowl. That, or the collected waste from the bottom of a pet store finch’s cage. His partner in crime, wooing man, would rattle back and fourth and wail like Laffin’ Sal. A couple of other middle-aged men, dressed like understudies to Jason Mraz, kept filming the show from the front row. One dude took a knee, as if a war photog, and set his flash to maglite while taking photographs of Julia Holter with his whirring 2001 digital camera. Clearly drunk off of Pabst Blue Ribbon, the two older men chirped, snorted, and rocked back and fourth in their Newsies hats until one girl shushed them near the end of the show. Even still, Holter and her band performed “Sea Calls Me Home” as an encore, and the crowd came together in a makeshift chorus to sing the hook. Outside of the venue, post-show, many of the Los Angeles artist’s fans were happy over the selection of vinyl at the concert.
For a mere $12 dollars, I was able to witness the supernatural sonnets of Circuit des Yeux and the playful sadness of Julia Holter. Now if we can do something about the unruly older dudes.