Halifax’s Piece Hall is quite a venue. When filled with excited music fans, the open-air walled auditorium, built in 1779, has the feel of a bustling Greek temple or an Italian piazza, though its roots are actually grand Georgian. It’s a thrilling place to see live music and boygenius sold out two nights relatively quickly, but I can’t quite understand why they aren’t provoking ticket bunfights for venues more than double its 5,500 capacity.
Phoebe Bridgers alone is verging on superstar status, her scar-ridden torch-songs with acute Swiftian (Taylor, not Jonathan) lyrics about love, trauma, madness and sadness draw a fanatical set of followers that multiplies daily. In 2018 she and two of her closest friends, fellow songstresses Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker, formed boygenius, and the three have continued the project sporadically ever since.
All bring something different to the table; Dacus’ primitive confessionals have a matching primitive aesthetic reminiscent of gorgeous old time lo-fi masters like Bill Callahan’s Smog and Lou Barlow’s Sebadoh. Julian’s angry guitar licks and stabs fire things up, adding an edge to Dacus’ whispered missives and Bridgers’ (comparably) more country/pop sensibilities.
These three brilliant women are in their prime at a time when their combination of the personal and the political should find a cultural context more easily than at any time in history. They should be filling out stadiums.
The gig begins with dramatic impact. The hi-octane crowd, bouncing like kangaroos on trampolines, are surprised by the sudden projection of a live video of the band backstage, crowded round a single microphone for an intimate a capella Without You Without Them. The quiet attention it demands instantly changes the atmosphere, casting a spell which feels almost mystical.
The release of energy and deafening noise when they leap on stage for a raucous $20 is electrifying, buoyed by the sight of the band crashing around the stage like wildcats, their hair bashing their faces as they mosh like an elegantly besuited AC/DC.