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Review: boygenius Closes Westville Bowl's 2023 Season With Connecticut Debut

Manic Presents: boygenius: the tour September 28th, 2023, in New Haven, Connecticut

Words and Photos by: Chantel Malin

Indie rock supergroup boygenius made their Connecticut debut at New Haven's Westville Music Bowl on September, 28. Their tour, aptly titled the tour, follows their release of the - also aptly titled - the record, released earlier this year. 2023 also marks the band's return to the stage and their first new releases since their self-titled 2018 EP. Met with immense critical acclaim, each member of the band - Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, and Julien Baker - bring their own unique talents to the table, which unite in a truly special blend of sound that has found its way into the hearts of many. the record was met with similar enthusiasm; in the years between, each of the musicians' talents have only become more and more polished, and their graduation to bigger venues such as Madison Square Garden - quite the upgrade from their last NYC performance at Brooklyn Steel - is an honor they have earned in every sense.

The concert opened with a performance from the band Palehound, fronted by Connecticut's own El Kepmner, who hails from Westport. The band is one of many openers on the tour, and the show at Westville Bowl would be their last of three on their respective leg. As with the entirety of boygenius and each of the openers on the tour, Palehound is a band made up of queer people, and are part of a larger and growing community of LGBTQ+ positivity in music. Kempner's joy of playing to their home state was clear to see, as was their very warm reception from an extremely packed audience as diverse as it was enthusiastic. The upbeat performance was paused only for El to draw attention to an attendee in need of medical assistance, during which they told a harrowing tale of a Bar Mitzvah they attended at age 13 during which they called their dad to pick them up when people started grinding because "bodies touching in gross." El then conversed with another audience member about what they ate for dinner before finishing out their set.

As has become tradition at a boygenius concert, their headlining set was preceded by a land acknowledgement from a representative of the local Quinnipiac, to recognize the native land that New Haven rests on. This includes the land of the peoples of the Quinnipiac, Mohegan, Pequot, Paugussett, Niantic, and Wepawaug.

The band's accompanying band then ran out to the tune of Thin Lizzy's "The Boys Are Back In Town," met with thunderous applause. Then the trio began the night with an a cappella rendition of "Without You Without Them" performed backstage. After joining their band, now in full view, they wasted no time launching into "$20," one of the record's higher energy tracks - featuring shredding guitars and an entrancing blend of the band's signature stunning harmonies and equally iconic screaming.

After "Satanist," they slowed things down with "Emily I'm Sorry," one of the mellower, more melancholic tracks from the band. They continued with other newer tracks "True Blue" and "Cool About It" before arriving at "Souvenir" off 2018's boygenius EP. Next came "Bite The Hand," which of course featured the mildly controversial fan cam; the screen behind the band traveled over audience members, mostly comprised of women and nonbinary folks, many of whom carried signs proclaiming their love for the artists on stage, in stark contrast to the song's lyrics about toxic fan culture. Even so, the boys made sure to proclaim their gratitude for the very people who allow them to play such large stages to such full audiences.

True to their sad girl reputation, the band brought the energy back down with a selection of their more subdued tracks, including "Revolution 0," "Stay Down," and "Leonard Cohen." The three then performed a song from each of their solo careers; "Please Stay" from Dacus, "Favor" from Baker, and "Graceland Too" from Bridgers. This allowed to band to highlight their own unique talents, as well as the depth of their respect for each other, and that of their friendships. The three songs are widely understood to be about the trio's friendship, and each of the tracks features the other two on backing vocals. It was an incredibly tender moment and a genuine tribute to the power of music and relationships. A particularly touching detail of this stretch of songs was the way the stage background changed to that use in each of the artists' solo tours. In a very poignant moment, Bridgers gestured to the glowing full harvest moon overhead, in reference to "Graceland Too"'s lyrics mentioning of the celestial body.

Bridgers then paused to introduce the live debut of "Voyager," a currently unreleased track from the forthcoming EP the rest, set to come out on October 13. The band has debuted a song from the EP on each night of tour, only adding to the excitement of an already highly anticipated release. They followed with "Me & My Dog," a longtime fan favorite and highlight of the set for many; between some particularly scream-able lyrics and an impressive belt from Bridgers, it was a deeply cathartic moment for the crowd. During "We're In Love," Dacus expertly caught a bouquet from the audience, holding it to her chest as she sang "I'll be the boy with the pink carnation pinned to my lapel."

Next came "Anti-Curse," a powerful song penned by Baker about a near-drowning experience, set to the backdrop of the artist's evolving relationship with religion and God. Before "Letter to an Old Poet," Bridgers asked the audience to not record and put their phone's away, due to the song's particularly intense nature. Perhaps the most devastating track on the record, the melody and lyrics call back to the equally heartbreaking "Me & My Dog" - except this time, instead of drowning in seemingly bottomless despair, the narrator of the song is ready to move on and know their own worth - as expressed in the lyrics "I wanna be happy, I'm ready / to walk in a room without looking for you." About the phones, Bridgers joked "it''s not illegal, I'll just like you less." The boys picked the pace back up to close their main set with "Not Strong Enough," before leaving the stage to enthusiastic applause, cheering, and chants.

They returned to sing Happy Birthday to Baker, who would be celebrating her 28th in a matter of hours after the end of the concert. They even brought out a cake for Baker, lovingly shoving her face in it before jumping into their encore songs "Ketchum, ID," and "Salt in the Wound." While the latter has traditionally ended in a chaotic explosion of joy in the form of the trio jumping in each others arms and flailing on the ground, New Haven was given the Baker Birthday Special - with Bridgers and Dacus throwing chunks of cake into the audience while Baker jammed out on her guitar.

Overall, the night was one New Haven won't soon forget. Though boygenius and each of the band's members are known for being giants in the realm of "sad girl" indie rock, the performance proved that they are also capable of immense joy - and that representation of public, female, queer joy on stage is so incredibly important. The event was also notable from the standpoint of taking place at a locally owned venue in the midst of a very public debate surrounding the ethics of concert ticketing and the LiveNation monopoly. We couldn't have asked for a better season closer, or a more special Connecticut debut from the three. A crowd full of girls, gays, and theys, all left with incredibly full hearts, immeasurable appreciation for the band, and tangible excitement for the rest to come.

Check out the full gallery of boygenius below!


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