It’s a sunny and 72-degree, skate-to-the-venue kind of evening. A make-friends-with-the-man-checking-your-ID-at-the-door kind of evening. A sip-an-eight-dollar beer kind of evening, because Julia Jacklin is playing, baby, and you’re celebrating.
The crowd gathered at the Urban Lounge is impressive in size, especially for a Tuesday night. Everyone cheers as Portland-based Black Belt Eagle Scout saunters onstage and each bandmate is wearing, aptly, their choice of black tees, black off-the-shoulder sweaters, and black corduroy button-ups. Katherine Paul, the frontwoman, takes a long and thoughtful look at the crowd before welcoming everyone. “I would like to begin the night by acknowledging where you are,” she says, her voice sultry and confident. “This land originally belonged to the Shoshone and Goshute people.” She beams, and she is beautiful, wearing her Native American heritage proudly.
The band breaks into cacophonous noise, shattering the air with aggressively-strummed guitars and heavy-hitting drums. It’s a startling transition from Paul’s lush spoken words. Before playing “Indians Never Die,” Paul asks if anyone in the crowd is indigenous to the land. Of the hundred-or-so people, there are only two. Her music is haunting and palpable. While writing a note in my phone, my keyboard autocorrects the band name “Black Belt Eagle Scout” to “Black Belt Rage Scout,” which is comically fitting, considering the angry tone behind many of Paul’s lyrics. “Do you ever notice what’s around you? / When it’s all right under our skin,” she croons. “Wastin’ / Wastin’ / Wastin’ away.”
Julia Jacklin glides onstage, clad in baby blue, a pixie from the ‘90s in her short plaid mini skirt. Without wasting any time, she and her band start into “Body,” and they play so tight together, flawlessly following each other’s volumes. The relaxed songs of her set are played at a gentle pace, unhurried, and everything in the room slows to match. During “Eastwick,” I get the sensation that I’m melting, and it’s sure as hell not from the beer, which was eight dollars, but still has an ABV of not-possible. “You are not in a garden / You are in a store / A single-stemmed rose reaching / Out for more.” Between lyrics, she turns her face from the microphone slightly with her eyes closed, eyebrows almost-imperceptibly furrowing, lips almost-imperceptibly pursed, as if wincing at the emotion behind her own words.
Jacklin’s voice resonates deeply, sensually, full of soul. Between songs, she makes small talk in her creamy Australian accent. During “Turn Me Down” I’m overcome with chills and it’s the kind of moment when people tell other people in the audience to hey, shut up man, I’m trying to hear, pay some respect to the moment I’m having inside myself. She sings “Don’t Let The Kids Win” at an impossibly tender and melancholic pace and at the last lyric there isn’t a single sound, even a single exhale in the entire venue.
Starting soft but ending strong, she finishes the set with “Head Alone” and “Pressure To Party.” Everyone is still bopping and elated when Jacklin walks quickly back onstage for a somewhat surprising encore. And I ugly-cry the whole way through it, every word of “Comfort,” and when the lights come up I look around to see that almost everyone else in the crowd has done the same
You can find Black Belt Eagle Scout at @/blackbelteaglescout on Instagram and @/blackbelteagles on Twitter and Julia Jacklin at @/juliajacklin on all social media platforms.
Catch them at one of their final shows together this summer, tickets and tour dates here.