Girl Brilliance, Boygenius:
Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus in St. Louis, November 15th
photos: Jessi McKee
On a cold fall evening with an unseasonable blanket of snow on the ground, the Pageant was just the opposite inside, sizzling with the vocal prowess of three 20-something women: Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus. Each was a force on her own performing solo; heartbreak and desolation palpable in lyrics that gush with emotion. And just when you thought the night might be over, the three indie-folk rock musicians banded together to perform an encore extraordinaire as their “supergroup,” boygenius.
But let’s rewind a bit. First out was Dacus, whose appearance was barely legible on show fliers, but that didn’t faze her. Guitar in hand, she struck first with “Thumbs,” a song so new that she asked the crowd to refrain from recording, to which they seemingly obliged. Dacus’ songs are brimming with heartbreak, sadness and a sense of belonging—and her distinctive contralto captivates.
Her band joined her as she followed the new track with a setlist that included “Addictions,” “Body to Flame” (with talented violinist Camille Faulkner) and the soulful “Timefighter” from her 2018 LP Historian. “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore,” her single from the 2016 album No Burden, was the penultimate of the set. She ended with the somber “Night Shift,” a gut-wrenching song about a past lover that commands attention with its first line: “The first time I tasted somebody else’s spit I had a coughing fit.” It starts slow and crescendos into a full-on, guitar-laced finale, with Dacus on the strings.
Up next was Phoebe Bridgers, the lady in black (and her favorite color, she said)—her attire a stark contrast to her light blonde locks. Bridgers’ self-deprecating humor on stage countered the melancholy madam’s darker side, with songs that touched on death, family dysfunction (“I had a shithead for a dad”) and heartbreak. With a full backing band, and a reappearance by Faulkner on violin, Bridgers commenced with songs from the newly released LP, Stranger in the Alps, including “Funeral” and “Would You Rather”—a track she wrote for her brother and performed onstage with guitarist Harrison Whitford (Conor Oberst of Bright Eyes sings on the record).
As she led into “Demi Moore,” Bridgers said she “threw her voice out” singing My Chemical Romance and Hilary Duff at karaoke, but she still managed to belt out her songs beautifully. The middle of the set included gems originally from her 2015 Ryan Adams-produced EP Killer: the title track and “Steamroller” (“Before I wrote sad death songs I wrote sad love songs. Here’s one.”). She ended her set with “Motion Sickness” from the new album.
Headliner Julien Baker was the most stripped down of the three: no band, just her, a guitar, a piano and—you guessed it—Camille Faulkner. Baker’s vocals have a pure richness and sweetness about them, with her southern roots seeping through in many of her songs. And her lyrics are raw—heavy with themes of depression, addiction, faith, soured relationships. She evenly split her 12-track set, performing six songs from her highly acclaimed 2017 release, Turn Out the Lights (including set opener “Sour Breath,” “Televangelist,” and set ender, the impassioned “Appointments”), and six from her 2015 album, the well-received Sprained Ankle (including “Blacktop,” “Rejoice” and “Go Home”).
It’s hard to say whether the audience was in the know about what was to come after Baker walked off and boygenius eventually took the stage. Baker, Bridgers and Dacus, donned in vests and guitars, came out with full band in tow, to raucous applause. As a supergroup, the like-minded musicians switch off the lead on songs (which, like their solo endeavors, are not lacking in sad themes) and end in perfect harmony.
They led with “Souvenir,” Baker singing first before the others joined in, while Dacus took the lead on the magnificently heartbreaking and melodic “Bite the Hand,” and Bridgers on fan-favorite “Me & My Dog.” The set also included “Stay Down,” the hauntingly beautiful “Salt in the Wound” and ended with “Ketchum, ID,” all from their self-titled EP.
- Jennifer Rolf