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21 August 2023

At Gunnersbury Park, Boygenius’s eerie, melancholic songs became festival singalongs

At a 25,000 strong gig, the band’s delicate melodies, close harmonies and elaborate guitar riffs were performed with ease, wit and feeling.

By Anna Leszkiewicz

More than 20,000 people poured into Gunnersbury Park in west London on Sunday 20 August – walking in, I was caught in a stream of women in white shirts, black ties and chunky shoes. The one-off performance of the supergroup Boygenius, which fell on the same day as the women’s World Cup final, was affectionately dubbed “UK lesbian day” for its line-up of gay and trans women and non-binary artists. Boygenius, an ironically named trio of indie singer-songwriters Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus (they walk on to Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back In Town”), were supported by Northern Irish folk artist Soak, cult songwriter Ethel Cain, and another trio of queer women, the euphoric Californian pop band Muna (joined by Bridgers in a see-through chainmail bra). The delight of subculture spilling into mass spectacle was palpable: for fans (“I took an 11-hour flight for your gay asses,” one sign read) and the band. “We put this show on for us,” Baker said. “It’s the biggest gig any of us have ever played.” 

Boygenius have released one EP and one album of mature and intricate rock music. In place of commercial hooks there are delicate melodies, close harmonies, novelistic lyrics, and elaborate guitar riffs, as well as three exceptional voices: this is music that slowly, determinedly burrows into your mind. They began backstage, sharing a mic for the acapella song “Without You Without Them” to leave the crowd hushed in reverence, before cutting to “$20”, one of their loudest, angriest tracks. Intimate portraits of fragile relationships – “Cool About It”, “True Blue” and “Leonard Cohen”– became open-hearted singalongs. These are technically complex songs, performed with ease, wit and feeling. The night ended with cathartic epics “Not Strong Enough”, “Ketchum ID” and “Salt in the Wound”, fireworks, and onstage kissing. Here, Boygenius’s eerie, melancholic tracks became festival anthems.

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This article appears in the 23 Aug 2023 issue of the New Statesman, Inside Britain’s Exclusive Sect