On Sept. 26, 2023, boygenius took the stage at MGM Music Hall at Fenway in Boston for their second night. The indie-rock supergroup, composed of artists Lucy Dacus, Julien Baker and Phoebe Bridgers, performed one of the last shows of their extended US tour. “boygenius: The Tour,” originally running through the summer, following the release of their debut album “the record” on March 31, 2023.
Their first show at MGM Music Hall, the day before, was not a typical boygenius concert. In addition to their usual introspective indie-rock style, the Monday concert included a guest appearance by Hozier, a performance of an unreleased song, and the announcement of their forthcoming EP, “the rest.”
Boygenius fans are not accustomed to receiving new music, with many of them scrambling to get concert tickets as it was unclear if the supergroup would ever tour together again. Before “the record,” the only music put out by the band was an EP called “boygenius” released in 2018, well before either Dacus, Baker or Bridgers reached the scale of fans they have today. So, understandably, the announcement of new music came as a shock and relief to fans.
Bringing out Hozier was an excitement in and of itself. The Irish singer played a show in Boston the weekend before, and many Wellesley students were complaining about how hard it was to get tickets that weren’t outrageously expensive. While Hozier tends to be more towards indie-folk and boygenius towards indie-rock, there is a large overlap in their fanbases, adding another level of excitement to his appearance.
So, everyone’s question for night two of the boygenius Boston concerts was “How will they top night one?”
Then Lizzy’s iconic “The Boys Are Back In Town” blared through the venue as the band members (excluding the three singers) took the stage, creating a high energy and unmistakably rockstar-like atmosphere. But the loud cheering of the crowd was quickly silenced as a grainy video of Dacus, Baker, and Bridgers was projected onto the big screen behind the stage. It was a livestream of “the boys” singing “Without You Without Them,” the acapella ballad that opens “the record” from backstage.
After less than two minutes of undivided attention, the crowd began to cheer again as the singers took the stage and began playing “$20,” a more upbeat song with intense lyrics and an aggressive bassline. Red and white light beams flashed across the stage while closeups of the singers played on the screen in the same aforementioned low-quality style. The purpose of the grainy video was confusing at first given that I, sitting in the very back of the upper-level seated section, could see the singers perfectly without the closeups. Yet, it became clear that the grainy video was meant to be reminiscent of the kind used during Led Zeppelin or U2 concerts during their heyday (from someone who never attended an 80s rock concert performed on a field housing tens of thousands of people). From the get go, boygenius made it clear that they were performing a rock concert.
What really made the concert special, though, was Dacus, Baker and Bridgers’s interactions with the crowd and each other.
When the supergroup first addressed the crowd, Baker asked if anyone had seen her and Bridgers’s joint show in Boston in 2018 and, after a few people shouted, she said “you guys are liars, there were like five people there.” Dacus then asked, “Who was at my show at the Sinclair?” A loud uproar followed, causing Dacus to laugh and say, “I won.”
Dacus, in particular, had a handful of sweet interactions with the crowd. During “We’re In Love,” a song sung primarily by her, she reached into the front row of the general admission pit to receive a small bouquet of pink carnations from a fan. She held the flowers as she walked around the stage, holding them to close her chest as she sang the lyric “I’ll be the boy with the pink carnation.”
Throughout the entire night, the musicians joked with each other. During the first song of the encore, Dacus motioned to Bridgers while Baker began to sing “Ketchum, ID.” The gesture confused Bridgers and distracted Baker, and after Dacus clarified that she wanted Bridgers to adjust the amp, Baker began to laugh so hard that it took her around three attempts to begin the song again.
If anything, I left the concert as a Julien Baker fan. Between the three musicians, I was the least familiar with Baker’s solo music and, due to that, felt less familiar with her personality. Her stage presence was characterized by her down-to-earth humor, which made the concert feel more genuine and intimate.
As she began the intro to “Souvenir,” the most popular song off of the band’s first EP, around 200 people in the first five rows of the general admission pit pulled out mini pride flags and began to wave them ecstatically. Baker immediately stopped, started laughing, and said, “This is very overstimulating. … Can you guys maybe wave them a little bit slower?” Dacus then asked who orchestrated the mass of pride flags, and after the crowd pointed to one person standing in the front row, Bridgers laughed and briefly interrogated them about what “made this specific song the gay song” (understanding that many boygenius songs touch on gay themes).
Their joking stage presence and intense rock concert aesthetic paired well with their large repertoire of slower songs. The band, as well as each individual artist, is arguably most well-known for their intensely emotional musical style. Before performing “Letter to an Old Poet,” a song primarily sung by Bridgers that discusses an abusive relationship, Bridgers said, “can I ask you guys a favor?” She then asked the audience to put their phones away because she would rather “look at [their] faces” during this particularly vulnerable song. In this moment, it was easy to feel the bond between Bridgers and the audience, adding another layer of affinity to the band’s presence on the stage.
The band perfectly walked the fine line between sincere vulnerability and entertaining comedy. In all honesty, I walked into the venue prepared for a melancholic experience. In many ways the concert was. On the commuter rail after the concert, I sat behind a first-year who told her friends that she “cried at least four times.” A handful of the people I sat around cried as well, causing a pervasive feeling of collective emotional release. Yet, despite this, boygenius created an unapologetically rock-like environment for its largely young queer fanbase.
The concert ended in a typical “boygenius-style” chaos. Before playing their last song of the night “Salt in the Wound,” Bridgers told the audience, in a comically suggestive tone, that if someone were to stage-dive, people should use both hands to hold the person up, rather than using one hand and holding their phone in the other. As the song began to end, Bridgers jumped from the stage onto the front of the general admission pit, with Dacus soon following her. The crowd tried to push the two towards each other before passing them back to the stage. Bridgers then ran on stage and kissed Baker, something she does at the end of most of their concerts. The lights on the stage flickered aggressively as the drums intensified, conjuring a sort of mayhem that can only exist in the final act of a rock concert.
So, did the Sept. 26 boygenius concert live up to the Sept. 25 one? In terms of surprise guests and announcements, probably not. The band, however, did play another unreleased song, “Afraid of Heights,” meaning that two of the four tracks on the new EP were debuted in Boston. The song was a beautifully written and slower song sung primarily by Dacus.
Unfortunately though, there were no surprise guests on the second night (although the aforementioned first years on the commuter rail were talking about how they spotted Noah Kahan, another well-known indie-folk singer, in the crowd). But, truthfully, by the time I was walking out of MGM Music Hall I had forgotten all about the special circumstances of the first night. The boygenius concert proved that the supergroup is capable of achieving a level of authenticity that extends beyond their vulnerable lyricism.