boygenius make musical magic at the Danforth

Nothing cures sadness like live music. When there’s a great band in front of you playing incredible music, the rest of the world can’t touch you. There’s a sense of community that makes you invincible and it can be one of the most magical feelings on the planet.

I’ve felt this a few times in my life, but never as strongly as I did on November 10. The Danforth Music Hall in Toronto hosted the greatest supergroup of our generation: Lucy Dacus, Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers, the undisputed queens of indie rock/folk music, who recently came together to record an EP under the name boygenius. Their tour in support of that EP is a testament to their friendship as much as their musical brilliance.

The lineup includes around three and a half hours of music: Dacus, Bridgers and Baker all get a solo set before performing the boygenius EP together to end the night. Dacus was the first act of the night. It was strange that, in spite of her being an integral part of boygenius, she was listed as an opener (with Bridgers and Baker billed as the headliners). A weird formality, but it made very little difference: Dacus was fantastic in every way. Her music is the most rock-oriented out of the three acts, which made for an electric performance. Between some soaring lead guitar work and Dacus’ powerful lower register voice, it was impossible to not headbang to tracks like ‘Night Shift’. But there was also a lot of the honest lyricism and sensitivity for which Bridgers and Dacus are known; her closer, ‘Historians’, is a quiet admission of vulnerability that felt like a beautiful palate cleanser before the rest of the evening. I was the least familiar with Dacus’ music going in, but she stood her ground even against two of my all-time favourite artists.

Next up was Phoebe Bridgers, who made an impression even before playing with her stage design; the microphone stand, drum kit and keyboard were adorned with fairy lights that accentuated the intimacy of the performance. Bridgers performed with a full band, but stuck with mostly acoustic songs which put the focus on her beautiful voice and lyrics. Like Dacus, her lyrics are brutally honest and personal, but there’s a unique darkness and morbid sense of humour. Give it a few years and Bridgers will be this generation’s Bruce Springsteen: she’s a natural storyteller with an inimitable connection to her audience. The crowd can feel the weight of bereavement in ‘Funeral’ and ‘Smoke Signals’. They can feel the heartache in ‘Demi Moore’. A particular highlight was a brooding cover of Gillian Welsh’s song ‘Everything is Free’, which Bridgers introduced as ‘the most beautiful song ever written about Napster’. The whole set felt like an intense, emotional journey: by the time she played ‘Motion Sickness’, possibly the most rock and roll song of the night, the crowd was ready for the high-energy catharsis it provided.

The penultimate act of the night was Julien Baker, the only act of the night to not be part of a band. Backed only by violinist Camille Falkner (and even then only for a few songs), Baker’s set relies almost entirely on her voice, guitar and piano skills. I initially wasn’t sure if Baker would be able to follow two full bands and was worried that perhaps it’d be a little anticlimactic. The result was the exact opposite: Baker pulled out all of the stops. The intense nature of her lyrics, combined with the sheer power of her vocals (I have seen her three times now and have never seen her put so much force behind herself) made for some of the most memorable moments of the show. Baker has always been incredible, but Saturday proved that she is on an entirely new level, completely confident with her material and knowing how to make the most of it. Subtle changes in the instrumentation helped to keep her material fresh, adding new dynamics to songs I’m sure her audience have listened to over and over. In the middle of the set, Baker played four of my five favourite songs in a row; I was so transfixed that I couldn’t even bring myself to applaud in between. Dacus and Bridgers stirred my emotions, but Baker’s performance was utterly transcendent.

I didn’t think it could get any better. I was very incorrect. When Baker, Bridgers and Dacus took the stage together as boygenius, everything changed. They even changed into matching outfits and shared smiles and laughs as they walked on. It was one thing to hear each voice on its own throughout the night, but to hear them in harmony, on the songs they created together, was almost too powerful to handle. They performed the entirety of their collaborative EP, beginning with an acoustic rendition of ‘Souvenir’, building in energy as the set went on and eventually boiling over into an electric performance of ‘Salt in the Wound’. Dacus’ set might have rocked the hardest, but ‘Salt in the Wound’ contained the most rockstar moment of the entire show: Baker closed the song with an out-of-this-world guitar solo, with Bridgers and Dacus bowing in front of her like the hardcore fans they are. It was a surreal, wholesome moment: in spite of the power of her performance, Baker seemed a little timid during her solo set. But on stage with two of her best friends, all of that melted away: this moment couldn’t have happened outside of this band and it’s a testament to everything that boygenius stands for.

Even after all of this, there was still room for more. The last song of the night was ‘Ketchum, ID’, an almost a cappella song that feels like a declaration of these artists’ love for one another. The performance of this song is the most beautiful thing I have ever experienced and I say that without any exaggeration. Bridgers unplugged her acoustic guitar and the three of them stepped past the microphones to stand right at the edge of the stage, about an inch away from the front row of the audience. They sang the song without any microphones or accompaniment. At first, the audience seemed confused by the quiet. By the first chorus, they had fallen silent in awe. By the second, every single person in the Danforth was singing along, but boygenius could still be heard over them. This moment was nothing short of a miracle. Words will forever fail to describe the intimacy of that performance, or the deep, deep connection that I felt, not only with the band but with every single person I shared that moment with. When they left the stage afterwards, they were beaming with joy and ecstatic that their little experiment had paid off (this was, apparently, the first time they had performed the song in this way). That pure elation was on the face of everyone else in the Danforth. The entire evening was full of hugely emotional moments, but nothing even came close to the last song; it stopped being a concert and started being a moment in history. I will be telling this story for the rest of my life and I could not be more thankful to Baker, Bridgers and Dacus for making this happen.

 

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