REVIEW: Semler at the TLA

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WRITTEN BY: Caitlin McGeehan

Opening for Relient K on Monday, March 21, Semler took the stage at Theatre of Living Arts and told their story. Semler (aka Grace Baldridge, all pronouns) grew up as a preacher’s kid (aptly the title of their 2021 EP) and realized she was queer at an early age. The songs throughout her set chronicled their journey with the Christian community, religion, and finding love and acceptance within herself.  

Donning their appropriate Phillies t-shirt, Semler filled the room with their voice and acoustic guitar. Their conversational and smooth vocals shined throughout the nine-song set, while softer tracks still allowed for moments of vocal variety. Plus, at an audience member’s request, the Philadelphia crowd got a snippet of “Thank God For That.”  

A Semler performance wouldn’t be complete without some humor. After all, humor is a lens through which they tell their story in their music, and there’s a dedicated “Silly Songs with Semler” part of the setlist inspired by the “Silly Songs with Larry” segment from “Veggie Tales.” This section included the tracks “Wanna Grab Coffee?” and “Youth Group.” The former recounts a meeting at a hypothetical “ill-fated Panera” where someone from the past wants to connect, and in Semler’s case, lead them towards the “right path.” “Youth Group” reflects on the ineffectiveness and chaos of church youth group lock-ins (“It’s like ‘Let’s take some repressed, hormonal teenagers/And put ’em in a church and hope they find Jesus overnight’” the lyrics say).

Attending a Semler show was a fun and reflective experience. With music about such personal things as her relationship with religion to things as big as the culture of Christianity and its attitude toward the LGBTQ+ community, there are a lot of possible reactions. However, Semler built a rapport with the crowd to leave room for reflection on these tough topics while keeping it lighthearted. When singing about intimate topics to a crowd each night, having at least a partially humoristic approach to reach them and ease tension helps.

As a performer, Semler is what live music is all about. It’s about feeling the vibrations of the acoustic guitar in the soles of your feet, hearing new stories, learning new lyrics, sharing a space, and finding new favorite songs because you see how much they mean to the artist. Semler nails that balance and makes you laugh, too. 

Setlist:

  1. TobyMac 
  2. Late Bloomer 
  3. I’d Rather Be A Ghost 
  4. …Baby One More Time (Britney Spears cover) 
  5. Youth Group 
  6. Wanna Grab Coffee?
  7. Hallelujah (In Your Arms) 
  8. Bethlehem 
  9. Thank God for That (snippet)
  10. Jesus from Texas

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