Photos by Nora Onanian
By Eden Unger, Staff Writer
Venue: MGM Music Hall
When: Monday, September 25th
BEING COOL ABOUT IT
I’ll be the first to admit that unlike so many people at MGM Fenway on Monday night were, I’m not a boygenius devotee. Their enthusiasm was quite infectious, though, and wound up transforming me into an honest-to-god fan.
Despite freshly printed signs at the box office that expressly forbade it, people were camped out hours beforehand. It was raining, and a chilly sixty degrees when I arrived at 4 pm, but there were already two lines of about fifty people each stretching out from the doors of the venue. Doors were not supposed to open until 7 pm, but here they were.
I was part of the lucky few who were invited to the pre-show soundcheck party, which meant we got into the venue early. Rather than being frustrated, those who had already been waiting seemed happy for us, if a little envious. “I was just curious, how did you guys get invited to the soundcheck?” one fan asked our group. “It just sounds so cool, so I wanted to ask.”
ME & MY PALEHOUND
Community was the word of the day, and it was more than fellow fans coming together to watch a show.
Palehound was boygenius’ opener for two shows of their five show fall tour. But before they could start playing, there was trouble in the midst of the crowd. People’s hands shot up, waving their phone flashlights to get security’s attention. The band, who had arrived onstage at 8 pm on the dot, paused to make sure that everybody was ok, and that security was on their way to help.
“It’s good to watch out for each other,” Palehound’s El Kempner remarked. Once it was clear that everybody was okay, Palehound launched into the opening lines of “Good Sex,” the first track of their 2023 album Eye on the Bat. “On your birthday last year I, secretly put on a corset, fit it under a bathrobe, to surprise you” Kempner rasps. Underneath, the guitar dutifully strums power chords on eighth notes, and is shortly joined by a steady, understated drum beat.
By the end of it, Kempner — backed by bassist and “platonic life partner” Larz Brogan, backup vocalist and rhythm guitarist Beck Zegans, and drummer Jamie Pompei — is like a powder keg ready to explode. And explode she does (perhaps in more of a firework-like fashion) on Independence Day, when the whole band lets loose over a refrain of the repeating line “I don’t wanna see it.”
Next up is “The Clutch.” “It’s about gay shit,” Kempner says conspiratorially. “If I had to guess, there’s some gay people here tonight.” This is met with a wave of cheers and affirmation from the crowd. “boygenius is a very inspiring band, it shows in who’s at the shows,” says Kempner later in the set.
Each song Palehound plays is more of a headbanger than the last (even the softer stuff, somehow), like “Eye on the Bat,” the title track from their most recent album, which is sort of a twangy road trip song; and “My Evil,” which is about having to live with the person you’ve become, and the evil inside.
While they play, the members of boygenius can be seen bouncing along offstage, much to the delight of their fans, who snap blurry pictures and videos. “Oh my god it’s Phoebe!” says a fan. And in response, the people ahead of them duck down to give them a better line of sight.
By the time Palehound was done, my neck was sore, but the crowd was riled up, and there was electricity in the air.
THE BOYS ARE BACK IN TOWN
After a brief intermission, during which an indigenous activist performed a land acknowledgement and announced a march for Indigenous People’s Day in downtown Boston, it was time for the boys (which is how both fans and their team refer to members of boygenius).
The lights dimmed, and Thin Lizzie’s iconic “The Boys Are Back In Town” bangs out over the speakers. As the music fades out and the crowd settles a bit, the video screen on the back of the stage begins to play what seemed to be a live feed of backstage, where boygenius performed the opener of their most recent album The Record, “Without You Without Them,” accompanied by the crowd singing along.
Then the drums kick in, the boys crash onto stage in true rockstar fashion as Julien Baker plays the opening guitar line from “$20”: badadabumbumbum badadabum. “It’s a bad idea,” croons a besuited Baker, flanked by Phoebe Bridgers who wears a formal gray dress, and Lucy Dacus in a similarly gray suit.
Next up is “Satanist,” a true ‘F*** the man’ rock song and a republican pearl clutcher’s worst nightmare. “Will you be a satanist with me?” Baker asks the crowd, and then later, “Will you be an anarchist with me? Sleep in cars and kill the bourgeoisie.” The crowd joins in on that last part and fills the room with the call to “KILL THE BOURGEOISIE!”
Bridgers takes point next on “Emily I’m Sorry,” an emotional ballad. The song drops out a bit in the middle, feeling like a collective sigh and a gathering of strength, before launching into the second half. She’s trying again to make things better for a lover who has been let down before.
The next few songs follow as they are arranged on the album: “True Blue,” then “Cool About It.”
There’s something larger than life about the band, and it’s not just the video of them playing on the giant screens at the back of the stage. The songs really come alive on stage, and somehow there are more voices singing along than would seem possible. But it’s the crowd, singing along to each and every song. And it really feels as if the songs had a fourth vocal part the whole time, one that can only be performed by a crowd of fans singing together.
“Souvenir,” from the eponymous 2018 EP boygenius, is up next, but before they can start playing, there’s a pause on stage. Baker is having some trouble remembering the mandolin part to the song, and consults with Bridgers and Dacus. It’s funny coming only moments after they had slammed Berklee — encouraging students in school for music to drop out — and they’re all more than ready to admit it. But they’re quite humble about it, and it makes for a very raw and intimate moment that feels organic.
On “Bite the Hand,” the first track of the EP, the cameras, which previously had been focused on the band, turn on the crowd, projecting smiling fans onto the screens on stage. As the whole room bounces along, the camera lingers on a sign that reads “You’re my gay awakening.”
Later, the boys take turns playing songs from their solo careers. Up first is Dacus with “Please Stay” from 2021’s Home Video, then Baker with “Favor” from 2021’s Little Oblivions, and last but certainly not least is Bridgers’ “Graceland Too” from Punisher, which features both Baker and Dacus on the original recording.
Then, it’s something entirely new. “Black Hole” begins with a synth that boops repeatedly as Baker sings “In a rainstorm.” At the end of the first verse, an ascending piano line and then a building drum beat, before the rest of the band joins in. Dacus sings the next verse while Baker and Bridgers play guitar. The song ends somewhat abruptly, and then comes an earth shattering announcement just as everyone realizes they’ve just heard an entirely new song: “Our EP, the rest, is gonna come out Friday the 13th.”
Later in the set, on the song “We’re In Love,” a fan hands Dacus a pink carnation (This song, which she sings lead on contains the line “I'll be the boy with the pink carnation”). Another stand out moment is on “Letter To An Old Poet” when Bridgers asks the crowd to put their phones down, because “It’s so emotional to look at people’s faces [during this song],” and everybody does.
WITHOUT YOU, WITHOUT THEM, WITH HOZIER THOUGH
When the band comes back out for the encore, they ask the crowd, “Who’s gay?” This is met with raucous applause, and not just because the boys have reemerged.
They perform “Ketchum, ID” the final song from the EP, with Baker and Dacus sitting together on the edge of the stage, while Bridgers plays guitar. “Salt In The Wound,” the second to last song from the EP, is the final song of the night. After the second chorus, Baker plays a bend-full guitar solo that can only be described as “wailing.” The real highlight though is when Dacus and Bridgers wave someone in from offstage, who turns out to be Hozier, to the crowd’s surprise, who joins in on the final verse. The crowd is roaring, the band is playing their hearts out, and it feels like nothing could be better than this.
Eventually though, the song has to end, and Hozier and the boys, along with their backing band, take a bow together before walking off stage. The screens behind them light up with the album cover for the rest, the three boys standing on a beach, silhouetted by dark blue clouds.