Lindsey Jordan, who records and performs as Snail Mail, leads her band in a performance at Ottobar in Baltimore on Feb. 14, 2023. (Photo by Casey Vock)
Any night spent with a respected musician is one to remember. But observing a rising star on their home turf, in a small club where they cut their teeth, is a rare opportunity to be cherished.
Now recognized all around the globe as her recording and touring identity, Snail Mail, Ellicott City native Lindsey Jordan was just a few years back regularly playing the bars and small venues of the Charm City.
But with her rise to fame and the success of her two full-length studio albums, including 2021’s Valentine, catching the local hero in an intimate setting is for the most part a thing of the past — as proof, she packed The Fillmore Silver Spring last September.
The chance to see her in a small space along with the lure of numerous mystery drop-ins made her recent run of shows at Ottobar — a five-night residency from Feb. 10-14 appropriately dubbed “Valentine Fest” — such an enticing proposition not just for Snail Mail devotees but for anyone looking for a compelling evening of live music.
And after four straight nights of impressive, high-profile visits from good friends, Jordan might very well have outdone herself on the fifth and final stand at the Howard Street venue as Snail Mail delivered an astonishing Valentine-tinged rock performance to a sold-out crowd, which of course included plenty of her long-time supporters, friends, and family.
Listen to Snail Mail’s 2021 studio album Valentine via Spotify:
It is, however, unlikely, that more than a small number of fans successfully acquired tickets to all five nights’ worth of these commemorative gigs, which intensified the anticipation for whom might be the guests on the final go-round.
As patrons gathered and sipped beverages in the dark space last Tuesday, some could have been unaware of the likes of who’d taken the stage on the four nights prior — though the list of guests dropped on night one, it wasn’t totally clear who’d yet played and who hadn’t.
Up to that point, Lindsey had welcomed Mac DeMarco, Soccer Mommy, and Mannequin Pussy among others to the stage. But for those who had tracked, it was clear a few names appearing on the event poster hadn’t yet shown.
Before anyone could speculate for too long, New York City-based Avant-pop poet and vocalist Mary Jane Dunphe offered a bold and evocative opening set, an emotional freefall, crimson in color thanks to the mood lighting and the massive heart-shaped rose arrangement on the back wall that, along with roses affixed to mic stands on fixtures throughout the building, set the scene for the residency.
When Katie Crutchfield, who performs as Waxahatchee, stepped into the lights, fans celebrated — one of the most striking and gorgeous voices in all folk music, fans would learn she is also a longtime friend of Jordan’s, instrumental in her success as Snail Mail.
At Katie’s side was Bradley Cook, a respected and seasoned producer and multi-instrumentalist who’s worked with a long list of outstanding artists — and his resume includes production credits on Waxahatchee’s 2020 album Saint Cloud and Snail Mail’s Valentine from 2021.
Watch Snail Mail’s Lindsey Jordan discuss the album Valentine with Producer Bradley Cook via YouTube:
Performing songs from the Waxahatchee catalogue and from her new project with Jess Williamson, known as Plains, Crutchfield was winsome and endearing behind her acoustic guitar and with Cook to her left playing his own. Performing some of the most beautiful songs she’s written, Katie delighted the crowd, filling it in on her friendships with Jordan and Cook as she went.
“In 2017, last time we played here, it was a very young Lindsey Jordan who introduced us as we came on stage,” Crutchfield said. “So, I’m gonna introduce her tonight.”
But not before Katie treated Ottobar to new songs she has in the works with Cook, who is the brother of Phil Cook, another well-known and in-demand multi-instrumentalist and songwriter residing in the Durham area.
“I’d like to dedicate this next song to my friend Lindsey Jordan, who was on my mind when I wrote it,” Crutchfield said prior to a stunning take on “Witches” from Saint Cloud.
And though she and Brad would play only ten songs, Katie would return during Snail Mail’s set to join the five-piece band that not only blew away affectionate holiday onlookers but gave its all for the fifth straight night in a display of vigor and stamina.
“Static Buzz” from the 2016 EP Habit recalled Lindsey’s early days as Snail Mail, and it banged and wailed with an affliction that’s carried through to her more recent recordings.
“Thank you Ottobar for letting us do this,” Jordan said, shedding her sweater, exhilarated to settle into the groove on her fifth night at a place where she obviously feels at home. “And thank you all for being here.”
She praised Dana Murphy, the founder of booking company Unregistered Nurse and the person who helped Lindsey evolve from a “teenager who had all these songs on Bandcamp” to securing her first gigs as Snail Mail. One of the very first was at Ottobar.
“Dana is special. Baltimore is special. Ottobar is special,” Lindsey said. “We’re thrilled to be here. Thank you so much.”
She applauded both openers, adding “it’s fun to get to see all our friends.” That extended to the crowd, as she’d interact with old friends and familiar faces, telling stories of local legends, the history of her guitar and more.
“Speaking Terms” from her 2018 album Lush absorbed the venue with the intoxicating layers of Jordan’s exquisite, downcast frequency and then in “Heat Wave” her resonance was sweetened, and the instrumentation heightened, as her longtime friend and fellow guitar shredder Ben Kaunitz created some of the cross fuzz he’d add to songs throughout the night.
Listen to Snail Mail’s first full-length studio album, Lush, via Spotify:
Regular drummer Ray Brown and bassist Alex Bass helped round out Snail Mail for these shows, and with roses all over the stage and even on some of their gear, they rocked with a purpose. Crutchfield would join them on stage for a sumptuous and grooving “Ben Franklin.”
“One of my first friends in music,” Jordan said of Katie, grateful for her guidance and support in navigating success with an eye on happiness. “One of my best friends in the whole world.
Jordan cheered her bandmates and her entire crew as well for an awesome run at Ottobar, and, upon donning a set of silky angel wings, the aura turned a tad more sensual as she worked through some of her most passionate and plunging pieces, like “Headlock” and “Forever (Sailing).” Dreamy and mesmerizing, here Jordan took on a celestial form and her voice was at its most doleful to make this an unforgettable performance.
Planned all along, the set closed with “Valentine,” suitable fulfillment for those on hand in the form of an epic, contorted rock endeavor. And following an encore take on her pitiful masterpiece “Pristine,” Lindsey brought her good friend Katie back up for what would be a climactic finish — a roaring and rowdy cover of “When You Were Young,” by The Killers.
The perfect way to spend a Valentine’s Day evening, if there ever was one, with a date or without one, the culmination of Snail Mail’s five-night run at Ottobar was not a normal affair in Baltimore. Rather, it was a celebration of one of the area’s brightest young musicians, the influential network she’s built and the promising future she and her friends have ahead.
Snail Mail Setlist
Ben Franklin (with Katie Crutchfield)
Let’s Find an Out
c. et al.
Vapour Trail (Ride cover)
When You Were Young (The Killers cover, with Katie Crutchfield)
Can’t Do Much
Problem With It (Plains)
Line of Sight (Plains)
Bored (new song)
365 (new song)
Right Back To It
Katie Crutchfield and Brad Cook
Mary Jane Dunphe