Last Saturday, September 30th, the TD Pavilion at The Mann hosted the most important concert the City of Brotherly Love and Sisterly Affection will see all year, if not all decade. It was the Philadelphia debut of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus supergroup boygenius, who I’ve spent recent years describing as, “Queer Girl CSNY… Except better.” It was a show I suspect many of us thought would never happened, after the March 31st release of debut full-length, the record, and announcement of the tour, a nearly 30-date US run that didn’t feature any stops closer than Columbia, MD (despite the fact that Lucy actually lives here…) However, this July the boys announced a short fall run, including a stop at Madison Square Garden, a Halloween show at the Hollywood Bowl, and this very shed show of ours…
The instantly sold-out concert was an exact combination of precisely what I would have expected and not at all what I expected. The 14,000 in attendance were mostly queer females, but they were not primarily of the teen variety who seem to stan the boys hardest on social media, with the average age ranging from mid-twenties to the younger side of WXPN’s biggest listeners, and including a nearly shocking number of straights couples (The social media discussion of certain boygenius fans shaming bisexuals and heteros for “stealing” their opportunity to see one of the band’s instant sell-outs was certainly not felt at any point…) Despite the capacity crowd, beer lines were non-existent, but not because the crowd wasn’t old enough to partake, but simply because they were too enraptured throughout the more-than-90-minute performance to even want to bother (which doesn’t explain why each bathroom line was the length of a football field…)
The often-tearful crowd nearly drowned out the band, singing along to 21 of the 22 songs as if they were longstanding anthems of yesteryear, despite the fact that each one was released in the past 5 years (the exception being “Powers,” off of the band’s surprise EP, the rest, that drops October 13th and was just announced that Monday). This included every track from the record, alongside every track from the 2018 self-titled debut EP, in addition to one track from each of the artist’s solo catalogues, which came towards the end of the night. However, despite seemingly owing the entirety of their contentedness to the band itself, fans displayed no ravenous, Beatlemania-esque attempts to devour any of the boys. I had expected a plethora of Morrissey-like stage invasions, but the audience’s behavior was actually well-mannered enough to enable each of the members to walk through the crowd atop the orchestra box, serving as a catwalk through the more fortunate seats in the house. After asking the audience to put their phones away, Phoebe traversed the entirety of the pavilion for “Letter to an Old Poet,” the final track of the record and second-to-last song of the main set.
And while the sound of boygenius tends to remain well within the realm of folk (not dissimilar to the boys’ earliest respective solo material), the live show was a full-blown rock spectacle, opening with the intro sounds of Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back In Town,” followed by the opening track of the record, “Without You Without Them,” which the trio performed backstage and the jumbotron behind their drum and keyboard risers projected for the audience, prior to the band storming onto the mega-stage, where they were joined by their four-piece backing band.
Highlights of the set included “Satanist” (which features the beautiful, “Will you be an anarchist with me? Sleep in cars and kill the bourgeoisie”) and “Emily I’m Sorry,” the ultimate queer anti-love song of our generation, which both came early in the set, in addition to sad summertime jam “Not Strong Enough” and “We’re in Love,” the most intensely intimate song of the evening, which both came near the set’s end. However, the individual performances seemed far less significant than the significance of the evening itself. We, the [mostly queer] sisters of the City of Sisterly Affection, had sold-out (within minutes) the kind of venue normally reserved for aging stars of the “ROCK” persuasion and relatively trivial teen heartthrobs. In my lifetime, I’m not sure it’s ever been more achingly clear that we matter. And, to be honest, being invited to attend an event of such profundity from the fourth row may be one of the most validating experiences of my adult life.