Live Shot: Wild Hearts Tour delivers heart-filled songwriting to Moody Amphitheater

Ava Motes, Life and Arts Reporter

True to its name, the Wild Hearts Tour gripped Waterloo Park’s Moody Amphitheater on July 25 with untamed, heart-wrenching lyricism. The tour’s split bill was opened by Quinn Christopherson and featured indie powerhouses Julien Baker, Sharon Van Etten and Angel Olsen. As the only Texas stop on the tour, Austin fans were lucky to see these singer-songwriters bare their hearts live.

Temperatures broke triple digits at the outdoor venue as Christopherson, an Ahtna Athabascan and Iñupiaq songwriter from Anchorage, took the stage. His evocative lyrics set the tone of the night with songs like “2005” — a slice-of-life story complete with references to mad cow disease and a Craigslist meet-cute of young lovers. 

The lineup continued with Julien Baker, whom fans greeted with applause as she walked alone onto the stage, guitar in tow. 

“Hi, I’m Julien, and I’m gonna play y’all some songs,” Baker said with a subdued smile. 

Baker’s four-person band then joined her, pairing a simple plucked guitar riff with a mellow bassline to open “Sprained Ankle,” the title track off her debut album. The song blossomed with Baker’s breathy vocals and vulnerable reflection on the difficulty of writing songs about subjects other than death.

“Sprained Ankle” provided a subtle opening to a complex and thought-provoking set. Contrastingly, the following song, “Bloodshot,” built energy with a heavy drumbeat and refrain. Then, a powerful recital of “Heatwave” formed the apex of Baker’s performance, during which Baker created her own live electronic looping and shook her hair to the beat. She concluded her set with “Ziptie,” showcasing her famously haunting lyricism.

Following Baker was Van Etten, who strolled on stage in black leather pants to a thrumming spoken-word track which faded as her band began to play the electric intro to “Headspace.” The audience cheered as Van Etten grabbed the mic, opening with deadpan vocals that built to a pleading chorus: “Baby don’t turn your back to me.” Van Etten’s band then transitioned into the familiar synth instrumental that kicks off “Comeback Kid.” 

Pausing between songs to share memories from touring, Van Etten announced that $1 from every ticket sold would be donated to A New Way of Life —  a nonprofit assisting people formerly incarcerated. The singer then introduced “Darkish,” a track she demo’d outdoors during quarantine surrounded by birdsong. Grackles coincidentally flew overhead as she played the apocalyptic tune. Then, Van Etten encouraged the crowd to dance to “Mistakes” and “Seventeen,” which charismatically concluded her set.

Olsen then took the stage as the sun set behind Austin’s skyline, plunging the venue into darkness. A spotlight shone down as she strummed the intro to “Dream Thing.” With distinct vibrato, Olsen presented Americana crooning and acoustic twang through songs like “Big Time.” When speaking to the audience, Olsen maintained a tongue-in-cheek attitude, joking that she was going to play a new song written the night before, and then jumping into her dancey 2016 indie track “Shut Up Kiss Me.” 

Olsen oscillated between her more recent folk-infused discography with songs like “Through the Fires” and earlier hits with crowd-pleasing hooks like “All Mirrors.” She ended her set with “All the Good Times,” a beautifully complicated song about moving on. As she walked off stage, the moody refrain hung in the air: “Thanks for the free ride / And all of the good times.”

As an encore, Olsen and Van Etten returned to the stage together to perform their duet “Like I Used To.” The final song of the evening was a cover of Harry Nilsson’s “Without You.” As with the other originals performed that evening, the pair emphasized the song’s lyrics with signature reflections on love, loss and everything in between.