Concert Review: Juliana hatfield find balance between anger and vulnerability
Written by Marygrace Schumann
Juliana Hatfield glides onto the stage in a cap-sleeved, cheetah print dress and a notebook under her arm, which she proceeds to lean against the bottom of her mic stand. It’s filled with her songs, lays open the whole show, and it seems to ground her. She’s backed up by drummer Todd Phillips and bassist Dean Fisher, together making up the Juliana Hatfield Three.
The venue is filled with people who could be my parents. At one point, near the bar, I see two girls who don’t look much older than me, but they’re soon joined by a woman who must be a mom or an aunt, who gives them a big hug and looks the most enthusiastic to be there.
I’m used to this. I have a thing for female singers who are old enough to be my mother (or, in some cases, grandma) and often find myself in rooms like this one, with men and women generations older than me, giddy like teenagers.
But there’s something different about Juliana. With over 30 years in the music scene (from the Blake Babies to the Lemonheads and then, finally, as a solo artist) her talent and dedication is undeniable. She has the chops. But still, there’s something more.
She starts the set with her 1993 song "I Got No Idols," a defiant anthem (I'm a goddess in your eyes, and I will never die / I was born of people's needs, and what they don't wanna believe). But it isn’t all harsh; Juliana has a knack for making even the “fuck you” songs mean more than that. There’s a vulnerability there, a genuineness in her voice and demeanor. She isn’t above it all, or better than anybody, but she won’t take shit.
She backs away from the mic numerous times, strumming her guitar with little theatrics, hair falling in her face not from showmanship, but from genuine passion, as she focuses on pouring herself into the music.
At one point, towards the middle of the show, she leans into the mic, and softly introduces a song. She starts telling the crowd about ferns in the 70s giving her comfort, the same comfort you get from a good, familiar song. She acts like she doesn’t know what the Hell she’s talking about, but everybody in the room does.
She starts to plays “Wonder Why,” and the room’s energy slows to a sway, all of us caught up in Juliana’s memories as she wonders why her corduroys were always light blue. The song is heavier, like you have to wade through it, but you want to, need to. She isn’t defiant in this, she isn’t urgent, she doesn’t force you to shut up and listen, but she tells her truth, and in that, we all shut up anyways.
It’s the first track she’s sung off her new album, Pussycat, an album largely (and quite explicitly, with songs like “Short-Fingered Man”) about Trump. This song in particular, though, is reflective, almost like an indie rock lullaby. She gives us a piece of herself in this and we take it, gratefully.
The show continues with a mix of songs, political and personal (often times both), Juliana giving her all for each of them.
Her second to last song is “Choose Drugs.” Without a word, Fisher and Phillips leave the stage, so the Juliana Hatfield Three dwindles down to just Juliana Hatfield, as she tenderly tells us how an unknown person chose drugs over her. It’s simple and heartbreaking, the soft whine in her voice making you want to crack wide open.
The boys join her again for their finale, “Impossible Song,” another track off Pussycat. Before she starts, she tells the audience she wants to leave us on a hopeful note. “Maybe it would be smarter to recognize our shared humanity” she begs us, singing about the possibility of us coming together as a country. The irony of the name isn’t lost on me, however, and it lets us all know that though she is hopeful, she isn’t naive.
And she walks off stage. The lights go up. I blink. The earth hasn’t shattered, my world view hasn’t turned on it’s axis. Instead, I feel warm, and energetic. Comfortable, and still, antsy. And that, to me, is the magic of Juliana Hatfield. What seems to set her apart.
She doesn’t get up on the stage like she’s some all-knowing wisdom junkie, nor does she barrel around it like somebody 20 years younger than her. Instead, she sings her truth, and in that we find that sweet balance. Of youth and wisdom, of passion and talent, of soft and hard. She seems unconcerned with being something bigger or smaller than she is, so you walk out of the venue feeling the same. Like you just are, and that’s the best thing you can be.
Listen to Hatfield's newest album, Pussycat, below:
Contact Marygrace by email at Marygrace.Schumann@loop.colum.edu.