Vulnerability on Display: Snail Mail’s Live Performance in Brooklyn
Issue 15, Volume 112
Indie-rock artist Snail Mail, also known as Lindsey Jordan, played a set at the Kings Theatre on Flatbush Avenue on a rainy Thursday night. While the theater’s Baroque architecture, ornate ceiling, and rich velvet curtains typically give an air of snobbery, Jordan quickly established casual intimacy, whispering “Let’s go be alone / Where no one can see us, honey.” These are the first lines of her new album’s title song, “Valentine.” Released through Matador Records, “Valentine” (2021) is Jordan’s second studio album after an almost three-year-long hiatus following her EP “Lush” (2019). During this time, Jordan has evolved from a young, lustful teenager to a jaded, mature adult, made obvious by her raspy, raw voice and ironic, faux-romantic iconography. This is shown through numerous aspects of her new project, from the coy title to the cupids on its cover.
In the concert hall, every visual and conceptual aspect of the performance was similarly themed, setting the romantic mood for concertgoers even before the show began. Cupid sculptures on the stage, atmospheric red lights, and “You and I” (1979) by Madleen Kane, the song Jordan sampled for “Forever (Sailing),” playing on the speakers all set the precursory vibe.
The intimacy of the venue made it difficult to ignore the painfully tonedeaf millennial Brooklyn hipster crowd. As distracting as the screaming audience was, Jordan’s vocals prevailed most of the time. It may not have been her intention to be drowned out by rabid fans who outsang the artist for long intervals, but the raw tones in her voice rose above the fanatic whining. In fact, this interaction speaks to a theme of “Valentine”: “Those parasitic cameras, don’t they stop to stare at you?” Jordan asks, reflecting on the complexities of being drowned out in the spotlight. Even so, the fervor was to be expected. For many, this was their first post-COVID-19 concert and their first time to sing along to an album they had been listening to all year. Vulnerability was the appeal of finally seeing “Valentine” live. There is something soothing about singing along to Jordan’s shared pain with a room of complete strangers.
The vitality of Jordan’s voice varied greatly between songs, offering a diverse array of stripped acoustic renditions and decadent Indie-rock numbers. “Speaking Terms” was the perfect fusion of dynamic instrumentation and angelic vocals. The bass in this song felt especially indulgent live because it echoed throughout the venue. The bassline introduced the song with an element of tranquility, and Jordan’s voice, barely audible, mirrored this softness. During “Ben Franklin,” Jordan’s vocals rose above the crowd as she reflected on her period in rehab over the pandemic. She pulls no punches discussing her heartbreak: “Post rehab, I’ve been feeling so small / I miss your attention, I wish I could call.” Jordan reclaimed this pain and channeled it in her performance, offering grins to the audience before spreading her arms angel-crucifixion style as she sang. Whether or not this was deliberately on theme, Jordan projected an image of confidence and healing.
The pleasure evoked during this performance was enhanced by the set list, which was composed primarily of songs off “Valentine,” but also comprised of the most popular tracks from her debut, such as “Full Control” and “Heat Wave.” These nostalgic, angsty songs translated powerfully to the live environment. It was compelling to hear her older music sung with a newfound voice, one that has experienced real heartbreak and isn’t afraid to sing about it. The songs from “Valentine” were much more subdued, and it was obvious that Jordan was still feeling the withdrawals from these pains. Her voice was less confident and full of uncertainty. Additionally, Jordan played a mellow cover of “Tonight, Tonight” (1995) by the Smashing Pumpkins. The song was a surprising break in the setlist. The drums and bass were more prominent in Jordan’s rendition, overpowering her voice yet again. This time, however, the volume imbalance served to enhance Jordan’s performance, as the instrumentation felt triumphant.
Jordan revealed a snarky aspect of her character during “Heat Wave” when someone in the pit asked, “What are you into?” (in response to “Heat Wave,” where Jordan belts “I’m not into sometimes”), and she quickly shot back with a one-word response: “women.” However, that was the extent of Jordan’s interaction with the audience. Although Jordan’s lyrical portfolio and personality are often regarded as beautifully confessional, Jordan barely added any commentary and only paused momentarily between each song. As a result, the experience felt brief, even though she played 16 songs.
For the encore, Jordan returned to play “Pristine” (2018), one of her most popular songs, joking, “This is a new one, I hope you guys like it.” This song ended the night on a perfect note, unifying the crowd for one last shared moment as the whole venue collectively sang her iconic lyric, “Is there any better feeling than coming clean?” On this rainy night in Brooklyn, Jordan was able to create a haven for those reeling from their pain.