From a red plastic chair, Lucy Dacus sang about pressing her thumbs into a man’s irises until they burst. Over an hour before doors opened, students were sitting on the floor outside Northeastern University’s Blackman Auditorium, winding around corner after corner outside the doors of the venue. Dacus’s return to Northeastern on Jan. 29 — after playing a concert there four years ago — was highly anticipated. With the recent release of “the record,” a surprise three song EP by indie supergroup boygenius (made up of Dacus, Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker), and the promise of a boygenius album on the horizon, excitement for the performance was palpable. For an indie-rock star like Dacus, the seven-song set she performed at Northeastern was unexpectedly pared down. “This is going to be a little different,” Dacus said with a laugh, after being met with a sea of outstretched hands when she asked how many in the crowd had seen her perform before. Sitting in front of a simple projector screen in a black turtleneck and oxfords, and without the steady support of drums or electric guitar to hide behind, Lucy Dacus was at her most exposed. Seeming almost shy at first, she admitted that this was the first show she played this year, and will probably be the only solo show she plays in 2023.
Dacus opened with “Hot & Heavy,” a song from her 2021 album “Home Video” about the nostalgic and often painful memories of past relationships that were tied to her hometown of Richmond, Virginia. Originally recorded as an energetic song dominated by a bold electric guitar, the version Dacus performed was stripped to its barest layers. The bittersweet nature of the lyrics could be felt in full force as Dacus’s smooth, full voice floated around the room, while the soft strums of the acoustic guitar had the crowd swaying. Her performance of slower songs like “Thumbs” had the audience in a hushed trance, while the opening lines of her recent boygenius release “true blue” were met with whoops and cheers. Confessing that she felt nervous playing “Night Shift” from 2018’s “Historian” without a band to support her, she asked the audience to join in, urging them to “sing impolitely.” Hearing the meld of so many voices singing in unison as she belted the refrain of “Night Shift,” which grew in emotion and built in volume every time she repeated it, drew the concert to a swelling conclusion.
Dacus then gave a short Q&A, answering questions that ranged from her favorite city to perform in (Boston, obviously) to what it was like writing songs with Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker for boygenius (it’s much easier to make decisions with them). When describing her process as a songwriter, she emphasized that she always writes melody and lyrics together, feeling that melody should exist to emphasize and punctuate the meaning of the lyrics.
The show Dacus played at Northeastern was one of the most intimate and vulnerable concerts I had ever been to. She wasn’t someone whose presence was electrifying or dazzling, nor did she have a stage persona full of swagger and charisma. But because of that, Lucy Dacus was tangible — like she was my friend, someone who would give me book recommendations and who I could confide in. Somehow, I felt a connection to her, and in those two hours we shared, we were under the same spell, until it faded away as the last chords of “Night Shift” dissipated into the night.