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Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus

  • Sylvee 25 South Livingston Street Madison, WI, 53703 United States (map)

Three thriving songwriters perform solo and collaborative sets. Info/tix

Julien Baker. Photo by Nolan Knight.

Julien Baker. Photo by Nolan Knight.

By indie standards, Lucy Dacus, Julien Baker, and Phoebe Bridgers are all living the dream—critically lauded, enjoying relative commercial success, signed to significant indie labels (Matador, Dead Oceans), appearances on morning talk shows and late night television, popular Instagram accounts. And none of them have hit 25.

Bridgers sounds like a cross between Gillian Welch and Elliott Smith, and writes music just as personal and even tragic, while maintaining a dark sense of humor. Baker, whose debut album was recorded by a friend from her Tennessee university and self-released on Bandcamp, identifies as both queer and Christian, and her often searingly intimate lyrics wrestle with questions about faith, love, and ontology. Dacus is more conventionally rock-rooted than the other two, though the most reserved in vocal delivery, her singing often eclipsed by her excellent guitar work and strong backing band.

It comes as a bit of a surprise to see these three artists, each in incredibly productive phases of their own careers, form what can only be called a supergroup, something typically reserved for musicians in between albums and tours, perhaps even in a bit of a lull. The band's name, Boygenius, is both a contrast to their, forgive the term, girl power, and a jab at the cultural permission given to young boys to feel entitled, as if they're the smartest, most invincible person in the room. While it doesn't feel quite right to call boygenius a Girl Group (should we call any of the countless, all-male indie bands Boy Groups?), their identity as young women in a music industry still often dominated by men certainly led them to make several creative decisions in the EP's production. It's self-produced, and all other contributors—studio musicians, engineering, mastering by Heba Kedry (Slowdive, Bjork, Beach House)—were women as well.

Boygenius' self titled EP, released this past October, isn't much different from anything any of its members might do on her own, but nonetheless it feels immediate and fresh, showcasing each of their distinct sounds. Then again, it's hard to imagine these three coming together and not making something powerful. "Bite The Hand" starts things off strong with muscular, fuzzy guitar, and unflinching candor and frank self-reflection: "I can't touch you, I wouldn't if I could / I can't love you how you want me to." It's one of the louder tracks on the EP, swelling again when we arrive at "Stay Down" and "Salt In The Wound."

The instrumentation—drums and bass, predictably, but also mandolin, banjo, and piano on some of the tracks—is clean and powerful but serves mostly to showcase the guitar work shared amongst Bridgers, Baker, and Dacus, which ranges from straightforward chord progressions to roaring reverb to unrelenting shredding. They all take turns singing on each track as well, each taking a verse and then often joining forces for the chorus in ascendant, spiraling harmonies. The last track, "Ketchum, ID," started with Bridgers, who had lyrics and an acoustic guitar, and it didn't change much. It is a beautiful, incredibly spare track, about the difficulty of travel and feeling connected to home, with some of the most gorgeous harmonizing on the record, almost reminiscent of the Carter Sisters: "I am never anywhere / Anywhere I go / When I'm home I'm never there / Long enough to know."

This EP makes something alarmingly clear: Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus, and Julien Baker are not only commanding musicians in their own right, but consummate collaborators. Hopefully this isn't the last we see of this trio. For this tour, each musician will play their own sets, with Dacus opening for the other two, but definitely expect a showcase of Boygenius tracks, many of which haven't been played live yet. —Katie Hutchinson

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