23rd October | Thekla
Photos: Jessica Bartolini
It’s always hard to tell if a band really means it when they say, “Thank you Milton Keynes, this one’s been special”. But when Lucy Dacus said, “This feels a bit like a homecoming show” last Tuesday, it really did sound heartfelt. Though Thekla is far from home for the Virginia native, there was a nostalgic feeling in the room by the end of her set. This isn’t wholly surprising when you consider this is Dacus’ second sold-out show in Bristol this year, and her second with a Bristol musician in support.
This iteration’s opening artist was fast-rising phenomenon Fenne Lily, who took to the stage in a shroud of smoke. Instead of the folky noodlings that first brought Fenne to public attention, her performance at Thekla started with an ominous repeating bass note that was more ‘Lose Yourself’ than Laura Marling. In ‘Three Oh Nine’, Fenne’s breathy voice floated over the satisfyingly sinister texture of her band (featuring Slonk’s Joe Sherrin on bass), and for much of the gig, she carefully toed the thin line between sadness and anger.
It’s easy to see why Lily’s fans find her compelling. For one, her stage chat is full of witticisms (“I’m basically an ego in a coat with lipstick”). But more than this it’s her voice, which flips intriguingly between the beautifully breathy and vulnerable vocal she is known for, and a harsher, lower tone that doesn’t quite feel broken-in yet. This said, it positively shines in an unnamed song whose melody could have come straight out of Cobain’s playbook. Fenne’s truest moments are those occasions where she seems lost in her blunt lyrics (“I’ve villainised my body for too long”), shaking her head until her fringe bounces. In those moments the room is hers.
This intuitive performance was all over Lucy Dacus’ set, and she opened alone with a new song, which always feels like an expression of trust. As cutting as her lyrics can be, Dacus has an elusive, personable quality to her voice that is loaded with character. As she worked her way through her second album, Historian, her storytelling felt unrehearsed, in spite of the consistent brilliance of her band.
“You threw your books into the river/Told your Mom that you’re a non-believer”.
Dacus’ delivery was deeply authentic, and the musing, meandering quality that seems native to her songwriting couldn’t help but charm. Curiously, it was not large groups chanting her lyrics back to her, but individuals dotted around the crowd, mouthing the words as if to themselves. They laughed at her deprecation (“the first time I tasted somebody else’s spit/I had a coughing fit”), and held their breath for her poignancy (“This ain’t my home anymore”).
Dacus closed her show by flipping from her first released song to her last. The fuzzy ‘I Don’t Want To Be Funny Anymore’, felt blunt and true, which is amazing considering Dacus has probably played it at every gig since she wrote it. But it was her album and set closer, ‘Historian’, that embodied the songwriter’s developed skill. Unpretentious as it was complex, the arrangement was sparse and almost liturgical.
The casual address of “This is what I want to talk about” followed a gutting truth that one lover must outlive the other, and it was this directness that gave Dacus’ set such a conversational, familiar feel, and drew the question of whether she creates this ‘homecoming’ feeling wherever she goes. But her double encore hinted at a genuine relationship with Bristol, featuring Breakfast Records alumni, Slonk and Jamie Cruickshank. It’s clear that as long as Dacus sings with such earnestness, she’ll continue to sell out her Bristol shows.