Boygenius are creating a new kind of rock: quiet, composed, and always emotionally vulnerable.
It’s been a while since I attended a sold-out concert, so Saturday night I strolled naively up to the doors of First Avenue promptly at 7:30 with the intention of catching the start of the night’s first set. But by that time, two lines already snaked around both sides of the building, where bundled crowds waited to see Lucy Dacus, Phoebe Bridgers, and Julien Baker.
Earlier this year, the three songwriters teamed up to form what many are calling an “indie supergroup,” Boygenius. The collaborative songs on the trio’s self-titled EP draw on each musician’s individual strength. All three write painfully expository and personal music— listening can feel like peering into someone’s diary. Together, they build skillful, subtle songs that showcase not only their musical prowess but also the deep-rooted support that the three provide each other. With its floating guitar strums and three-part vocal harmonies, Saturday’s concert felt equal parts rock show and living room hangout with close friends.
Dacus opened the night with a set of material from 2018’s Historians (and a new song called “Thumbs”). With a full band behind her and distortion pedals at her feet, she’s the most rock-oriented of the trio, and her head-banging, heart-baring songs had the crowd bobbing in their places.
“I hope you are all feeling very strong now,” Dacus said near the end of her set. “Because you will need strength to get through this evening.” And she wasn’t wrong— her set was the first of four (Dacus, Bridgers, and Baker each performed, followed by a joint set as Boygenius), making the show a whopping three and a half hours.
Phoebe Bridgers brought a quieter vibe to the stage; she and her band wore all-black ensembles (described by my friend as a “funeral aesthetic”), and string lights adorned the mic stands and drum kit. She played songs from her debut album, Stranger in the Alps, as well one specially chosen cover. “One of my favorite bands is from here,” she said before easing into a version of the Replacements’ “Here Comes a Regular.”
First Ave’s crew redecorated the stage for Julien Baker’s set, leaving the majority of the floor empty, save for an upright piano, a bed of fake flowers, and Baker’s pedal board and loop station.
Baker’s set, like her albums, was soft and slow-building. She performed some songs alone, others with a violinist. She began the first handful of songs on her Telecaster, building atmospheric loops from finger-plucks and strums. Between songs—sometimes even mid-song—Baker switched to piano to accompany her razor-sharp voice. For most of the set she stood two to three feet from her microphone, her voice carrying itself toward the crowd.
From the First Ave balcony I had a prime view of the crowd throughout the night. While some heads bobbed and bodies bounced during Dacus’ set, by the time Baker took the stage, the audience was patiently still, enraptured by the ebb and flow of reverb-soaked guitar and warm violin.
Between songs, Baker paused to share anecdotes about the origins of her songs and chat with the audience. Twice, she thanked the crowd: once for singing along, and again for creating a space for her to share intimate moments from her life with a room full of 2,000 strangers.
“Being a performer is great because it makes you step back,” she told the crowd. “It makes you assign new meaning to all of the horrible things that have happened. Now I can stand up here with a big smile on my face and sing about all the bad things in my life.”
Creating art from the fodder of painful experiences is the heart of Boygenius’ project. The subject matter of their songs ranges from battling with your sense of self to standing in the aftermath of severed relationships. Each of the three women sings these songs with a quiet sense of composure— their music doesn’t so much wallow in painful experiences as it documents them, assigning each memory a place on the bookshelf next to worn notebooks and wilted houseplants.
Boygenius stepped onstage in their signature style: matching black blazers adorned with cut-out felt astrological designs, moons, constellations, and their initials on the lapels. Their self-titled boygenius EP is only 21 minutes long, and the group played all six of its songs during their set. Each singer brought her individual presence: Bridgers with hands in pockets, pacing; Dacus closing her eyes as she sang; and Baker scrunching her face to propel her voice out toward the crowd.
Boygenius isn’t simply the sum of three individually talented musicians. Their power stems from their support for each other, visible in the tangled hug the three shared at the end of their set and the way Bridgers and Dacus kneeled on the stage during Baker’s guitar solo on “Salt in the Wound,” bowing, waving a lighter and collapsing from the magnitude of her shredding.
Boygenius ended their set with “Ketchum, ID,” a song supported by acoustic guitar and three-part harmonies. “The chorus is pretty easy,” Bridgers told the crowd, inviting the audience to sing along. She began the first verse perched at the edge of the stage, bypassing her microphone in favor of letting her soft voice float acoustically into the audience; the trio’s voices unamplified were no louder than the shy singing of the woman standing next to me.
Shuffling out of First Ave at the end of the night, I felt that same rush of adrenaline any ground-shattering rock concert produces. But Boygenius hardly perform like your typical “rock stars.” There's no posturing, no flashy light shows, no self-indulgently drawn-out guitar solos. Instead, Boygenius teach us a more quiet way to rock. With their hands in their pockets, or clasped in front of their chest, Boygenius prove that a dynamic performance can be soft, it can be sad. You can still be a rock star with your heart on your sleeve and silhouettes of the moon spread across the back of your jacket.
Click here to see a photo slideshow of Boygenius at First Ave
Yours & Mine
Body to Flame
Would You Rather
Here Comes a Regular (Replacements cover)
Turn Out the Lights
Bite the Hand
Me & My Dog
Salt in the Wound
The crowd: Median age: 27? Most popular type of headwear: knit beanie. (Also popular: baseball caps.)
Overheard in the crowd: “He’s 36. He’s an accountant. And he’s also in a boy band!” (I don’t know who the man in question is, but I’d like to meet him.)
Critic’s bias: First show I’ve openly cried at. Although I often get misty-eyed during concerts, this one was the first to bring full-on tears to my eyes.