2023 has been the year of boygenius. The supergroup, comprised of musicians Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus, broke a five-year hiatus by announcing their first full length album and surprise-dropping three singles in January. They released the record in March, alongside a short film directed by Kristen Stewart. They spent the summer on tour with Clairo, Dijon, and Bartees Strange. And in September, they embarked on a fall tour that brought them to New Haven’s Westville Music Bowl, performing to a sold out crowd on the evening of the 28th.
Since their self-titled debut EP was released in 2018, all three members of the group have seen massive success in their solo careers – Bridgers most of all, with her last album Punisher turning her into a household name. That the band reunited amidst so much success for Baker, Bridgers, and Dacus as solo artists feels somewhat miraculous, and is a testament to the fact that the boygenius project seems to be just as important to the musicians as it is to their fans.
The band is known for their on-stage affection, frequently exchanging kisses during their performances. For their fans, many of whom are young and queer, the three musicians model a type of closeness and friendship that is as enamoring as their music itself. The clear respect and gratitude Baker, Bridgers, and Dacus share – the way that it seems like they are making this music not only for their audience but for each other – is incredibly moving to witness.
At the New Haven show on September 28, opener Palehound brought the energy up as the audience danced and sang along. Lead singer El Kempner commented on the remarkable demographics of the crowd, saying that as a queer and trans band, it was special to “feel held” by an audience with so many queer fans.
Following a land acknowledgement from Clan Mother Shoran Waupatukuay Piper of the Golden Hill Paugussett Tribe, the touring band arrived on stage while Thin Lizzy’s “The Boys Are Back in Town” played. Joining boygenius on their summer and fall tours were Sarah Goldstone, Madden Klass, Tiana Ohara, and Melina Duterte.
Finally, the boys – Baker, Bridgers, and Dacus – appeared on the screen behind the stage. They sang an a capella rendition of “Without You Without Them” from backstage before bounding out onto the stage as the opening chords of “$20” resounded over the crowd’s screams.
The setlist covered the majority of boygenius’s discography, bouncing between songs from 2018’s boygenius and 2023’s the record. The band transitioned seamlessly between high-energy songs like “Satanist,” with its iconic guitar riffs and driving beat, and more pensive songs like “Emily I’m Sorry,” which leans into the delicate quality of Bridgers’ vocals. When the fan-favorite “Souvenir” began with its quiet guitar strums, the audience transformed into a sea of waving flashlights, a beautiful sight in the multi-tiered Westville Music Bowl.
The boygenius discography ranges not only in style and tone, but also in methodology; in some songs, each member takes a verse, while in others one member leads the vocals for the entire song. The band is at its strongest, however, when Baker, Bridgers, and Dacus sing together; their harmonies layer on top of each other to create something altogether unique. boygenius leverages that effect, joining their vocal forces at key lyrical moments; for example, in “Leonard Cohen,” Dacus sings the majority of the song, but is joined by her bandmates as they all announce, “I never thought you’d happen to me.”
In addition to their own music, boygenius performed a set of songs referred to by fans as “the trilogy.” This series includes Dacus’s “Please Stay,” Baker’s “Favor,” and Bridgers’ “Graceland Too,” and though each artist released their respective song individually, each one features the other two members of boygenius on backup vocals. To see all three of these songs performed back-to-back by boygenius is a treat, and a moving demonstration of their skill as collaborators both within the container of boygenius and within their own solo projects.
In another special addition to the set, boygenius debuted their song “Voyager,” from the then-unreleased EP the rest. The crowd was hushed as the band sang the lyrics for the first time publicly, and as Bridgers sang, “walking alone in the city / makes me feel like a man on the moon,” a full moon peeked out from behind the clouds. the rest was released on October 13, and features three new songs in addition to “Voyager.”
One of the joys of watching boygenius perform is that they do not feel the need to stick precisely to the recorded versions of their songs; note changes and minor tweaks abound, and the crowd goes wild for each of them. In one of the most noticeable and profound changes, Baker switched up the lyrics in “Anti-Curse,” for which the recorded line is “I’m writing the words to the worst love song you’ve ever heard / sounding out the foreign characters, an incantation like an anti-curse.” In New Haven, a smiling Baker crooned, “I’m writing the words to the best love song you’ve ever heard / sounding out the familiar characters, an incantation like an anti-curse.”
For “We’re in Love,” Baker moved to the piano and Bridgers, still on guitar, sat towards the back of the stage, leaving Dacus pacing from one side of the stage to the other as she sang what she has described as a love song for her bandmates. Accepting a flower thrown from the audience, Dacus sang, “If you rewrite your life, may I still play a part / in the next one, will you find me? I’ll be the boy with a pink carnation pinned to my lapel.” Baker and Bridgers joined in to harmonize at the end of the song, as the three sang through a list of reminders of their relationship.
Towards the end of the night, Bridgers asked the crowd to put their phones away as she prepared to sing “Letter to An Old Poet.” “Just because the song is really intense,” she said, “and it’s nice to look at people’s faces.” As the crowd cheered, she added, “If you relate to this song, my apologies.” boygenius finished the main part of their set with “Not Strong Enough,” getting the crowd dancing once again before waving goodbye and exiting the stage.
Appearing back onstage, Dacus and Baker sat on the edge of the stage as Bridgers strummed the opening chords of “Ketchum, ID.” For the last chorus, Dacus stood to hold the mic out to the crowd, which echoed the lyrics: “I am never anywhere / anywhere I go / when I’m home I’m never there / long enough…”
Before their final song, Dacus announced, “It’s Julien’s birthday tomorrow!” Bridgers and Dacus led the crowd in a double-time rendition of “Happy Birthday” as Baker blew out the candles on a cake brought out from backstage. The band’s final song, “Salt in the Wound,” features a long instrumental section, where Baker shreds and – during live performances – Bridgers and Dacus get up to some onstage shenanigans. During this performance, Bridgers and Dacus grabbed handfuls of Baker’s birthday cake and launched them into the audience, bringing the show to a chaotic and joyful end.
boygenius has frequently spoken about the duality of being a band of queer women – the importance of representation alongside the desire for their music to be more important than their identifiers. So it is not as a reduction or an oversimplification, but rather as a celebration and an offering of gratitude, that I say: watching boygenius perform live is a life-changing, life-affirming experience. It is a reminder that queer joy matters, that friendship is romance, and that music is connection. To witness these three talents join forces onstage is an undeniable privilege, and we can only hope their collaboration continues for years to come, in whatever forms we’re lucky enough to get.