Coming to The Sylvee in Madison, WI, I wasn’t sure what to expect. I had listened to Lucy Dacus, Phoebe Bridgers, and Julien Baker for some time before signing up to photograph and review the show. I was curious to see what this trio would be able to bring as a team, especially to such a new venue that had only been open since September.
The start of the night was quietly announced with a lit-up neon sign based off Lucy Dacus’ most recent album Historian. She shortly thereafter arrived on stage with a calm and quiet personality filled with humor, joking while she was tuning,“Y’know, this is a nice little convo, it’s like a first date.”
Laughter filled the hall until someone shouted, “I’m nervous!” To which she replied, “You’re nervous? How do you think I feel?”
More laughter ensued until she started off with a new song as a nice icebreaker for both her and the audience. After the band joined the stage, Dacus carried us along on a calm wave before ramping things up about halfway through with her song “Night Shift”. She really bared her teeth and showed us her more aggressive side with a bit of a growl that reminded me faintly of Margaret Glaspy. Her set ended with a chantlike piece, accompanied this time with one of her band mates on guitar rather than by herself as she had started her set.
Phoebe Bridgers came up next, bringing an even quieter personality that was just as confident as Dacus’. Her body language was that of an old friend who you’d be happy to talk to, or in this case, listen to about anything. Bridger’s melodies haunted throughout the air, with her song “Killer” being a particularly chilling one that stuck in my mind. She also brought out “Motion Sickness”, a fan favorite that was well received by the crowd.
Towards the end of her set, Bridgers did a small duet with one of her bandmates, Marshall, to perform a cover of Gillian Welch’s “Everything is Free”. The song was written in 2001 in response to Napster and growing rates of piracy in the music industry. As Bridger’s put it, it was about a “Pretty fucked up future”. They proceeded to play and let the song do all the talking, gently reminding us all to support musicians, no matter how big or small. I felt it was a thoughtful way to end her set.
The last of the trio, Julien Baker, came out on stage blazing with songs like “Sprained Ankle” from her debut album of the same name and “Sour Breath” from her sophomore album Turn Out the Lights. It was a tasteful choice as she continued to interweave these two albums throughout her set.
Her personality was of stark contrast when compared to that of Dacus and Bridgers; while her songs were as introspectively calm as the other two, her contemplation was of a more intense nature. This was well represented by her playing style; At times she gently plucked her guitar while at other times attacked it with ferocity.
This along with the content of Baker’s songs brought us in close with her, letting us see how vulnerable she was. While she was only accompanied by a skillful violinist at times, the stage felt more than filled with her presence. She continued her sprint before coming to the finish line with “Appointments”, the very first song to be released from her sophomore album.
For the final set, all three of these women came together to cover songs from their latest EP boygenius. While it was clear from the get go why these women were touring together, it was even more evident when they were all on the same stage together; Their unique personalities and perceptions came together to combine a force that was stronger than them divided. Baker’s strong intensity was well matched with Dacus’ and Bridger’s inner calm, bringing each of them out to play even fiercer than they had earlier in their sets.
The last of their vehemence was with Baker wailing out a guitar solo at the end of their song “Salt in The Wound”. While she played with skillful flair, Dacus and Bridgers whimsically bowed down to Baker with smiles on their face. This was then followed by their last song “Ketchum, ID”. Performed without mics and just acoustic guitar, it was a powerfully different performance and a perfect end to the show.
Overall, I was impressed by the show these performers put on. While I had expected a night of songs filled with rumination, I was also reminded how important it is for musicians to band together. Dacus, Bridgers, and Baker were each phenomenal on their own, but together with an incredibly talented band behind them they presented a night that was a memorable experience that I aim to never forget. I look forward to where these women go next and hope to see them continue to work together.