A lot has changed since Claire Cottrill (known professionally as Clairo) last performed in Boston in 2019 — the pandemic being only one of them. Following the widespread acclaim of her 2019 debut album “Immunity” and world tour that came with it, the Carlisle-native moved back to her home state of Massachusetts and rescued a dog, Joanie. By 2021, she had released into the world her sophomore effort and most ambitious project to date: the devastatingly calibrated, ’70s folk-inspired monument to vulnerability that is “Sling.”
On Feb. 27 and 28, Clairo once again had a homecoming, playing two sold-out shows at Boston’s House of Blues with supporting act British poet-singer Arlo Parks. “I’m so excited to be here,” Clairo told the audience at her Feb. 27 show, recounting her childhood spent just outside of Boston. “This just means the world to me. I went to so many shows in this venue.”
Ever since its release, “Sling” has been celebrated by critics as a testament to Clairo’s “maturity,”and indeed that is part of its strength. (The sleek peacoat she wore on stage this time around was a definite shift from the comfy sweats she donned in 2019.) But the album, which made up the bulk of Clairo’s twenty-song set, is perhaps more notable for how natural a progression it feels for the artist. Despite being radically different from “Immunity” and older mega-hits like “Pretty Girl” in terms of its production, “Sling” shows Clairo coming into her own. As she told Vogue’s Keaton Bell back in 2021, “‘Sling’ is moreso the direction I’ve dreamt of making music in and the kind of headspace I wanna continue down…. that feels really exciting because that means I’ve found something that works for me.”
On stage at the House of Blues, Clairo used this to her advantage. Backed by a six-piece band, an array of sculptural light fixtures, and surrealist animations projected onto the screen behind her, the singer-songwriter gave her audience a performance that felt intimately her own. She kicked off the show at the piano with “Bambi.” “I’m stepping inside a universe designed against my own beliefs / They’re toying with me and tapping their feet,” she sang, introducing the (patriarchal) systems and structures that “Sling” pushes against. All the while, her voice was cushioned and uplifted by a swelling chorus of plush electric guitars, and an audience ready to belt every single word. Just as Clairo’s sound and lyrical subject matter have grown and matured, so have her fans. They knew the words to every single song as if it were their own.
Songs like “Zinnias,” with its refreshingly danceable guitar riffs, and “Alewife” with its overwhelming tenderness — both of which Clairo played on her forest-green guitar — proved standouts in a set overflowing with loving renditions of super-hits and more stripped back tracks alike. Carefully contrasted with songs from “Sling'' like the confessional “Partridge” and the disarmingly cutting “Blouse,” even Clairo’s most popular and shimmering anthems from her bedroom-pop era were made to feel at home in the cozy, lounge-inspired setting. “Immunity”’s “Softly,” for example, was given extra room to breathe with a more expansive and jazzy arrangement that allowed Clairo’s vocals to take center stage.
“Alright Boston, do you know the words?” the 23-year old singer said before breaking out into “Bags,” its upbeat melody filling the venue as she sang about struggling to open up about her feelings for a girl. A saxophone solo towards the end kept the song firmly grounded in the energy of the night. Clairo then wasted no time going into “Harbor,” a song about moving on from a relationship that is no longer working, its melody so soft and delicate with its acoustic guitars and ethereal harmonies that it threatens breaking. This balance — between guardedness and vulnerability, between sparkling pop arrangements and low-key piano ballads — kept the night afloat, proving Clairo has never needed to sacrifice one era of her career for the next. Indeed, the fact that she’s still sure to play 2017’s “Pretty Girl” at every show only further solidifies this fact.
Despite the bigger size of the venue, Clairo took the time to interact with her eager audience, too. “I wrote this song about my dog Joanie. What a great dog,” she said before playing the instrumental track named after her pet. “So if you have a dog, I want you to think about your dog…. Think about how great your dog is… And let’s just sit, and think.” During “Blouse,” she invited the crowd to sing with her. “Asshole!” people yelled about the song’s subject. To which she responded, quietly, “period.” “Sing with me?” she asked, over and over. And so the crowd did.
By the time they closed out the show with the groovy “Amoeba” and “Management,” Clairo and her band had taken their audience on a wholly immersive journey into the depths of her constantly evolving musical artistry. Her encore, an updated and elevated rendition of the wildly popular “Sofia,” brought the house down. “This has just been like the best night ever, so I really appreciate you coming out,” she said before exiting the stage, bringing the night’s retreat to ’70s jazz clubs and woodsy hideaways to a loving end.
—Arts Chair Sofia Andrade can be reached at email@example.com. Follow her on Twitter at @bySofiaAndrade.