THE BOYS ARE BACK IN TOWN
Boygenius play to an adoring crowd at the Halifax Piece Hall.
Boygenius are a shooting star — there for just moment in time, but you feel lucky to have caught a glimpse as it tears through the night.
Comprised of three of America’s finest modern singer-songwriters - Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus - the band fell together almost by accident, purely on account of their mutual admiration of each other’s work.
They released a self-titled EP five years ago to overarching acclaim, but in between a global pandemic and the bustle that comes with vast individual career growth, only as of this March did Boygenius’ once again join together to release their first full length, ‘The Record’.
It’s a spectacular album, peaking and troughing sonically between tender acoustic, and the jagged edge of distortion (and a little bit of screaming). It feels well rounded and already timeless - and like Midas, you can tell who of the three has touched each song, or who is at the helm.
Their brotherhood has earned them a remarkable online following, not neglecting the mass of teens who have found Boygenius as their inevitable band-to-be-obsessed with — a rite of passage for us all.
And so a devout, predominantly young fanbase packs tightly into the courtyard of Halifax’s Piece Hall - the last surviving cloth hall in the world. Tonight in this beautiful 18th building, lyrics of longing, anxiety, self-sabotage, and acceptance will bounce off the Georgian stone walls like age-old confessionals.
Walking around and one things strikes me: the fashion tonight is impressive. White button up blouses, emblazoned jackets, suit jackets + ties — dressing up in the style of the band makes an event of it, and everyone truly shows up. Like the Renaissance World Tour, Love on Tour, and Eras tour-goers, being a small but integral visual part factors into something bigger.
Ethel Cain is supporting tonight, which is a double whammy for anyone with Boygenius in their taste palate. She delivers a nuanced set, reverb drenched and church-critical - her time onstage feels transformative.
Fans upfront are into it massively, more so when she descends into the audience for ‘American Teenager’ — caressing reaching hands as she wanders along the barrier, and leveraging the security step to look down at affectionate, singing faces, a la Florence Welch. One boy wraps his arms around her urgently. The connection proves to be a tangible sweet spot, and a lovely lasting memory of what Cain stands for.
Thin Lizzy’s ‘The Boys Are Back In Town’ blasts as Boygenius’s backing band take their places. It cuts out to a backstage cam on the big screen, with the three-piece huddled together to sing acapella.
It’s tricky to compartmentalise Boygenius, further proof that strict genre labelling is old hat. There’s certainly a folky core in all they do, silky harmonies and story telling, but melodically, they’re at home with the pop greats. Hooks that will stick in your head, yet a modest lustre to the production.
There’s obviously a rock saturation, too. Baker for one loved Christian hardcore as a teen, and guitars are prominent - if not essential - across the span of Boygenius’ discography: both as a unit, and as solo artists.
The night’s opening track — also The Record’s opener — ‘Without You Without Them’ is not unlike a traditional Americana song, similar to something Emmylou, Dolly and Linda would have sat down to sing as part of their own supergroup effort.
As if this musical happening was predestined, their three voices blend together in perfect harmony, interweaving like threads of gold. Lucy’s dusky alto sits beneath Phoebe’s softer melodies, with Julien often fluttering above by means of an aching falsetto.
From the bare bones of the choral into the jaunt of garage rock, the trio bound onto stage, kickstarting ‘$20’ with smiles plastered across their faces. The noise from the crowd is immense.
Phoebe Bridgers is posted leftmost: the bleach blonde, folk-indie poster girl - propelling to dizzying heights during the quarantine. She has found herself lodged in pop vernacular: mentioned in feature films, cited by popular contemporaries as an influence, supporting Taylor Swift. But never could something as trivial as fame equilibrity offset this band of bros: it’s clear they’re not one without the other.
Julien Baker, lovingly appointed the “little one”, stands centre-stage - between the other ‘boys’. An almighty power-shredder, and bursting at the seams with more energy than her short stature can deal with: she zips about the stage, damn near bouncing off the walls.
Lucy Dacus is on the right. She has all the plumy allure of an old Hollywood star, and counteracts Baker’s hyperactivity with a calm, pensive musicianship - they balance each other out beautifully. A deep thinker and a fantastic wordsmith (as well as a keen reader), Dacus feels like the gravity of Boygenius.
One EP and a 12 song album grants their whole catalogue to be played in full. Their set also allows for a song from their solo ventures - each of which feature the trio as a vocal ensemble on their respective recorded versions. Dacus’ lovelorn ‘Please Stay’, Baker’s homegrown, biting ‘Favor’, and the hungering of Bridgers’ ‘Graceland Too’.
Their wry senses of humour and natural wit shines through during the banter between songs, notably when they puzzle through the chants of “Yorkshire! Yorkshire!”
“What is that? Is that a college or a province?”, Baker wonders. “That’s here? I thought this was Halifax”.
The crowd laugh, as Bridgers offers up that she only recently learned that Washington State and Washington D.C were not the same thing.
The interaction with the dedicated fans is of two halves: both sweet, and a little scolding. Their 2018, Lucy-led song ‘Bite The Hand’ forewarns of getting a little too close - and the importance of maintaining those boundaries between fan and artist, with the refrain “I can’t love you how you want me to”.
As they play, the big screen footage closes in on fans, who look equal parts mortified and delighted to be up there — very self-aware of the parasocial target on their heads.
A standout comes in the form of their most popular single from The Record, ‘Not Strong Enough’, a song that details the fear around not being ‘enough’ for someone, and that self-hatred mutating into a god complex.
The song’s sermon - “always an angel, never a god” - is repeated in the bridge to the point of a cathartic yell.
Much like the ‘Boygenius’ band name, the lyric interrogates the idea that boys and men are overpraised for very little — the everyday Einstein, instilled with the confidence that everything he thinks and does is correct and brilliant. “BE the boy genius!”, they jokingly encouraged each other during studio sessions.
Women are consigned to lesser ranks in the spiritual hierarchy, almost by default: angelic, cherubic, pure - but never a god. Tonight, the 5,500 strong audience proclaim the lyric with such purpose, the earth seems to shake.
Lucy and Phoebe both choose to crowd-surf, and they close with the thunderous ‘Salt In The Wound’ — expending their last bits of excited energy, tussling and giving each other smooches in the fevered end-of-show euphoria.
It already feels Boygenius each have such a solid body of work behind them, and a rich musical future ahead. Together, they are a force to be reckoned with.