“Jesus Christ, I’m so blue all the time” – Phoebe Bridgers (Funeral)
“I’m just as good as anybody / I’m just as bad as anybody” – Lucy Dacus (Timefighter)
“Nothing turns out like I pictured it/ Maybe the emptiness is just a lesson in canvases” – Julien Baker (Appointments)
We return to our live performances recommendations with four 2018 Brooklyn Steel concerts that actually form a series: Phoebe Bridgers, Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus and the band boygenius (actually a collaboration between all three musicians) playing together on the same scene. Bridgers, Baker and Dacus have collaborated extensively – they appear together on “Punisher” and on Hayley Williams’s “Roses/Lotus/Violet/Iris” (which makes a lot of sense, since both Williams and Bridgers are associated to emo-rock).
All the concerts have some great things in common: the violin accompaniament – probably there first and foremost for Phoebe’s performance, as her music features the violin extensively – and perfect ambiance/acoustics. Baker’s and Bridgers’s performances veer into alt-country and bluegrass territory (helped a lot by said violin and acoustic), while Dacus goes all-out, rocking hard over high-volume accompaniment and great drumming.
If Bridgers’s strong point is her voice and poignant lyrics, Baker’s is definitely the complex guitar-playing, and Dacus’s is the way she just rocks out and the sheer power of her performance.
We feel that Phoebe Bridgers needs very little in terms of introduction: her songwriting and death-infused lyrics have made her receive four Grammy nominations, and she is certainly one of the better-known indie rock artists by now. This concert doesn’t contain any material from her “Punisher” album, but is focused on “Stranger in The Alps”, her 2017 release. “Funeral”, a somber track which perfectly sums up the sense of loss and disaffection that permeates Bridgers’s music, is the first highlight of the concert, with lyrics like “And I have this dream where I’m screaming underwater/ While my friends are all waving from the shore/ And I don’t need you to tell me what that means/ I don’t believe in that stuff anymore“. Hearing Bridgers confessing “I’m so blue all the time” over lush harmonies and guitar twangs is heartbreaking, and the drums provide a much better overall experience than the studio version of the song.
Even “Demi Moore”, a much more uplifting track – about sexting, nonetheless – features an antithetical, ghostly lead synth. A much-needed, drum-enabled release of energy occurs around 19:00. “Killer” delights with a suitably killer piano intro, and “Scott Street” is the absolute highlight of the entire performance, with a triple-threat of drums, superb bass section and – what else – a long outro where all the members on stage get to have fun. Every moment from there until the end is just a treat.
For her part, Julien Baker manages to conjure up every mood, from ‘prom night’ to early-adulthood worries, switching minimalism with heavenly harmonies and, above all, almost smothering you with that raw voice hitting the high notes. Featuring no drums at all, but changing different instruments around when required, the concert finds its groove around 13:00, when the violin joins in, and the electric piano at 17:00 will give you goosebumps.
At 24:20, the absolute best song of the performance starts: “Hurt Less”, with a sublime piano opening and the violin providing all the offset needed for Julien to crush it with her singing. It feels like twelve minutes of heaven. At 39:00, another very inspired violin-guitar combo is just added bliss. Overall, both Baker and Bridgers will surely manage to awaken the bluegrass lover lying dormant in you.
Lucy Dacus’s concert is the outlier here: starting out with the warmest voice out of the three, “The Shell” first impresses with a loud electric bass and all-around awesome drumming. “Body of Flame” is when the violin also jumps in, and features the first outro of many to come. Honestly, some will probably encounter difficulties in making it to the end of Dacus’s performance…because once she performs “Timefighter”, they won’t want to listen to anything else ever again.
Just an incredible song, somewhere between indie-rock and prog-rock, “Timefighter” feels like listening to a Sharon Van Etten and Opeth collaboration – the supreme drumming, the prog-style guitar riffs, the all-guns-blazing interludes and outro, this will delight fans of classic rock with the way all the members on stage achieve synergy and the sheer power of the performance.
Of course, when you get to each of these supremely gifted women play together, as boygenius, it’s nothing short of spectacular. No other word, or description is necessary. This is perhaps the best alt-country music we’ve heard since Mojave 3 delighted us with “In Love With A View” and “Bluebird of Happiness”. Also, Bridgers and Dacus worshipping at Julien Baker’s feet is an apt descriptor for her guitar-playing skills.
As a bonus, we feel that it’s important to mention that Phoebe Bridgers is also part of of Better Oblivion Community Center, a group in which she performs alongside Bright Eyes frontman Conor Oberst…and that their album features one of the best drummers ever, Carla Azar of Autolux. You can listen to their KEXP performance below – we just love rock duets, and at times the group sounds like “Mother Mother”, a Canadian band we adore.
Also, if you thought that “Funeral” was too depressing, Oberst and Bridgers actually perform a punk rendition of that song in Better Oblivion concerts. Here is a quality recording of it:
On that note, we leave you with our favorite cut from each of the separate boygenius members performances:
…and, of course, with a Better Oblivion track featuring Carla Azar, for all the Autolux fans out there:
“Good music, art, and media should suck you in, chew you up, and spit you out different than who you were when you encountered it.” – Lucy Dacus
Featured image is Picnic, by Angela Deane.