OAKLAND — It may have been Julien Baker at the top of the marquee Tuesday at the Fox, but the Memphis singer-songwriter shared equal stage time with her two openers, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus. The true headliner of the show was Boygenius, the group the three women had formed over the summer, releasing a surprise EP earlier this fall.
Following roughly 40-minute sets by each of the acts officially listed on the bill (Dacus and Bridgers played about nine songs each; Baker, 11), and a 10-minute break during which some people actually filtered out of the concert hall, Boygenius assembled across the front of the stage, with the Bridgers and Dacus flanking Julien Baker and members of both of their bands providing support. The three opened with “Souvenir,” the third of six tracks from their EP, boygenius. Baker softly sang the first verse; Bridgers sang the second. Dacus came in on the chorus, on which—much like the rest of the group’s songs—the three harmonized.
“I can’t love you how you want me to,” the three sang in unison at the beginning of “Bite The Hand.” As the song, reminiscent of ’90s garage rock in both tone and lyrical content, slowly burned on, their voices became staggered, overlapping each other. “Stay Down” began with Julien Baker singing lead in her distinct style, like a balloon slowly filling, knowing full well it could burst at any moment. Her bandmates handled subsequent verses, with the song morphing slightly to fit their vocals. “Me & My Dog” worked in reverse, with Bridgers starting as the lead vocalist on the mellow tune that turned into a rocker when the drums kicked in and violin grew louder and louder.
Virginia’s Lucy Dacus shined on the first half of “Salt in The Wound,” singing passionately. Midway through, Baker began wailing away on her guitar. As her solo dissolved the song into a sea of distortion, Dacus and Bridgers got down on their knees, as if in worship. The concept of sharing was the essence of Boygenius. There were no clear Baker, Dacus or Bridgers songs. Instead, they each contributed their part to the whole. The trio finished alone on stage, singing “Ketchum, ID” without the amplification of microphones. Slowly, the crowd joined in on the gentle lullaby.
The night began with solo sets by each member of Boygenius.
Lucy Dacus made a literal fresh start as she opened the show with a new song. Before setting off into its gloomy melody, she politely asked the audience to refrain from recording the unreleased cut. With no phones in the air, fans attentively listened to Dacus’ thoughtful lyrics and warm vocals.
The singer-songwriter welcomed her full band onstage for “Addictions,” off 2018’s Historian. The song about bad habits added a punch to Dacus’ set with its catchy indie-pop chorus. This ebb and flow of moods stayed constant throughout the set, allowing emotions to fester but to also be set free via energized rhythms. “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore,” off 2016’s No Burden, took on a garage rock sound as it deliberated feeling out of place. “Timefighter” glistened with a soulful allure. Dacus thanked the crowd for singing along before concluding with “Nightshift.”
Phoebe Bridgers and her band began with a slow and somber kick drum beat, sparse violin and Bridgers lightly strumming her guitar for the intro to “Smoke Signals.” “Funeral” and “Georgia” were flecked by steel guitar played to perfection by Harrison Whitford.
“This is a song I wrote about domestic violence; yeah,” Bridgers said, off-kilter. “It’s a song I wrote for my brother. … Everything is fine now.”
The mid-song banter may have had some hiccups, but the musician’s bedroom pop, filtered through an alt-country prism, was smooth. “Demi Moore,” “Killer + The Sound” held down the middle of her set, before she concluded with “You Missed My Heart” and “Scott Street.”
Julien Baker split her 11 songs on stage evenly between her 2015 debut LP, Sprained Ankle, and 2017 follow-up, Turn Out The Lights.
On most of the newer songs, she was accompanied by Bridgers’ violinist, whom she gave freer reign than the opener, but didn’t need it much because the rich tones of her voice and guitar. She opened with “Sour Breath” and “Shadowboxing,” before transitioning to older cuts “Sprained Ankle,” “Everybody Does” and “Rejoice.”
“I’m amazed that anyone wants to hear these songs in the first place,” she said prior to the middle of the three older cuts. On “Rejoice,” her voice bounced off the high ceiling, turning the Fox into a cathedral. On “Televangelist” and “Go Home,” she played an upright piano, which altered the feel of the latter song that she has previously performed on guitar. While the new instrument may have distracted somewhat from the song, the addition of a violin on the heart-wrenching “Something” gave the song even more depth.
Baker concluded with “Turn Out The Lights,” her loudest song, on which the reverb and rattling distortion possibly mimicked the distress she may have been feeling at the point of inspiration.