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A defining moment for Bartees Strange at the Sinclair

Bartees Strange performs at the Sinclair, a stop on his first-ever headlining tour.Ben Stas for The Boston Globe

CAMBRIDGE — On Monday night, indie-rock innovator Bartees Strange finally got the chance to properly introduce himself in Boston. Not that he was a stranger, exactly: His 2020 debut, “Live Forever,” became a breakout success mid-pandemic, mixing squealing guitars with everything from hip-hop flows and folk fingerpicking to electronic beats. This spring, he followed it up with his second full-length, “Farm to Table,” which expanded on that approach with a triumphant glint. His stop at the Sinclair on his first-ever headlining tour was a chance to prove it all translated live.

And translate it did — layered arrangements coming together with a thrilling volatility, teetering on the edge of chaos for drama’s sake. Absent the studio-production polish, tracks that had flowed seamlessly together on the album required a more overt grounding force to feel cohesive in performance, and Strange’s band delivered, leaning hard into the songs’ rock foundations on bass, keyboards, drums, and guitars.


Singles like “Mustang” and “Boomer” predictably lit up the crowd, but so did more adventurous departures, like the industrial freakout of “Flagey God,” which indulged a harsher noise edge.

But Strange was at his best on tracks that showed off his dynamism, starting in one genre but making a break for another. On “Wretched,” slow-building synth gave way to an ecstatic dance party. “Cosigns” featured Strange flexing his success with an AutoTuned, Kanye-in-his-prime cadence before splitting into an arena-rock chorus that revealed looming dissatisfaction: “How to be full, it’s the hardest to know/I keep consuming, I can’t give it up/Hungry as ever, it’s never enough, it’s never enough, it’s never enough.”

As the set went on, Strange grew more conversational, offering a personal perspective on his songwriting: He wrote “Hold the Line” over the summer of 2020, after watching George Floyd’s daughter talk about her father’s death, and worked on “Farm to Table” opener “Heavy Heart” while watching his first album become a success at a time when “everyone else’s world was crumbling.” He touched on his musical influences, too, including two National covers from his early EP “Say Goodbye to Pretty Boy”: a drum machine-laced cover of “Lemonworld” and somehow-sadder-than-the-original rendition of “Today.”


And though he returned to the stage for an encore moments later, he parted with the audience on a personal note with “Farm to Table” closer “Hennessy,” a song he said he’d played since he was a teenager. “I recently realized, it’s kind of my thesis for making music altogether … It’s like, I know there’s all these stereotypes about what Black people should and shouldn’t do, but I just want you to see me for who I am, for what I make.”


At the Sinclair, Cambridge, Nov. 14

Karen Muller can be reached at karenmuller13@gmail.com. Follow her on Twitter @KarenLottie.