Somehow, I missed Jen Cloher perform twice in New York.
The first was when she opened for Courtney Barnett + Kurt Vile, The Lotta Sea Lice Tour. I had gotten the set times mixed up and arrived in time to hear Cloher retelling the origins of “Strong Woman,” her last song of the set. I was devastated while everyone around me raved on. When I asked her to sign my record later, I told her she was amazing. I’ve never been so sure of a lie before.
I missed her second acoustic performance the next day in Brooklyn, thanks to a mountain of work. After this record, it’s likely she’ll never perform a room that small again.
For her latest date in New York, you could say that arriving and arriving on time was a priority to say the least.
Since Cloher’s last two performances were acoustic, it was a welcome sight to see her take lead of her band, in which all parts are it perfect. Drummer Jen Sholakis is thunderous, and looks like she’s having the best time. Bones Sloane is steady and dependable on bass. Courtney Barnett’s quiet command of her guitar almost outshines Cloher…almost. It was a performance from a band that knows one another so well, a result of making so much great music and videos together through Milk! Records.
After a fun performance from fellow Australian Mia Dyson, Jen Cloher appeared onstage, without a word, and opened with “Regional Echo”, a welcome surprise given its subtlety. It’s also one of the more stunning songs on her self-titled record, released in August of last year. If you still haven’t taken the time to listen to this yet, you’re missing out on some of the most reflective lyrics in a very long time.
This record becomes more special with every listen. Cloher’s intimacy will feel familiar, but you’ll always be floored by how each song progresses towards a more truthful version of herself. For example, to examine one’s envy of another’s success is bold, but to even admit to envy is an inconvenient task that Cloher does so uninhibited, (“Forgot Myself”). For a record where relationships to love (“Sensory Memory“), to country and home (“Great Australian Bite”, “Regional Echo”), to womanhood (“Strong Woman“) are explored, this album is generous when sharing the nuances of the very regular lives we have with a partner. The most moving truth of the album is just how hard it is to love someone from a distance; how impractical that love can be, how it’s loneliness can be permeating, how fulfilling it is to have found it. This is the space where Jen Cloher lives and thrives.
After ripping through her first three songs with bravado, she welcomed a crowd that was nothing if not quietly in awe of her. Some of the biggest cheers were during two pivotal moments: “Analysis Paralysis“, where we proudly held our heads up high at the lyric, “I’ve paid my fines. Taxes on time. But the feral right. Get to decide… if I can have a wife?” as she gave a quick nod to the blushing Barnett.
And when Cloher proudly declared her age, she proved once again how unfair it is that we had to wait this long to get the chance to see her perform live on her own. However, it was at her very best and well worth the wait. “Analysis Paralysis” is an 8-minute odyssey made all the better because Barnett completely loses herself in it. “Forgot Myself” is more triumphant because we’re witnessing Cloher after recovery. “Shoegazers” is playful with a sneering tone.
I’ll be honest, I was really excited to see how the band worked together as a whole. I wasn’t prepared for how much I would enjoy seeing how much Cloher and Barnett complement one another. Later on, I realized that so much of the allure was in watching two people who have found one another’s equal in artistry and love. It’s romantic. If the album was a precursor to introducing us to a relationship, watching this show was the embodiment of those lyrics and melodies. For an hour and change, we watched love and success, complication and envy, find resolution and coexistence and put on a great show.