October 3, 2023

boygenius and MUNA played Madison Square Garden

On a final victory lap to celebrate an incredible year, boygenius played their largest headlining show yet at the world's most famous arena and brought their friends MUNA along for the ride.

There are cultural, musical moments that come along once every so often to define a specific moment in time, creating a zeitgeist to propel a new era and usher in a new generation. You can look at grunge from Nirvana, Pearl Jam, and Soundgarden in the early '90s, N'SYNC and the Backstreet Boys in the early millennium, the Strokes, White Stripes, Hives, and Vines pushing the garage rock revival, Washed Out, Neon Indian, and Toro y Moi with chillwave circa 2009, Chvrches, Lorde, and Haim with the high-gloss pop in 2013 and now the explosion of queer-forward guitar-rock that culminated with a larger-than-life crowning achievement when boygenius and MUNA played Madison Square Garden. Following a year of build-up due to their most recent blockbuster album, boygenius have brought forth a watershed moment where their brand of indie rock has reached the masses, creating a movement and following unlike anything anyone could've predicted when three friends got together for a tour and tried to record a song together to sell at the merch table. In the months since their debut album has been released, Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers, and Lucy Dacus have catapulted to the upper echelons of success beyond their wildest dreams and to see them live it up on their largest stage yet was an inspiring moment that no one in attendance will soon forget.

As the lights went down for the first set, the arena was already packed and the volume instantly increased as MUNA took to the stage and blasted into their hit "What I Want." From the moment the band was on stage, the crowd was locked-in and cheering, ready to welcome what felt like a headlining set of their own from the opening act, making it clear just how special the night would be for those in attendance. Hyper-pop and alt-rock influences were abundant throughout the band's set, the glossy synths and laser-focused guitar cut like knives and amped the crowd while the treated drums helped accentuate each number. Energy was high from the start and the building was in total sync as the crowd gave more and more with each song, proving that MUNA were the cherry on top for many and helped establish the night was a haven and safe place for so many to feel free. "We were just a bunch of queer friends who started a band at our school and we were the only ones" they shared before playing their oldest track "I Know a Place" and it was a moving moment to see the crowd react with such enthusiasm. "Anything But Me" was another soaring track that felt ignited by passion, but nothing compared to their final number of the set. As the opening chords of "Silk Chiffon" rang out, the building erupted and voices from the crowd took over the mix and when Phoebe Bridgers walked out to do her verse, it felt like we could be on the verge of structural collapse. The response was mind blowing and to see that reaction was truly something special and gave even more of an indication as to what could follow and the meaning it would bring to the fans in the seats.

Like they've done every night for their now well-played tour, Lucy, Phoebe, and Julien began their set backstage, closely gathered around a mic for the acapella opening of "Without You Without Them," the song the kicks off their album and sets the tone for the night ahead. With the crowd joining in on every word, it felt like an intimate singalong in the biggest room imaginable and as they wrapped up and darted to the stage, the volume skyrocketed to eleven and they slammed into "$20" with punishing force, taking off like a fighter pilot from an aircraft carrier and jettisoning themselves into the night for what would be a set beyond anyone's dreams, as their screaming faces beamed behind them on massive screens. Raging straight from that into another Julien led track, the equally rocking "Satanist," it was like the continued first drop of a rollercoaster after the slow crawl up the lift hill, and kept the momentum at fever pitch as Lucy and Phoebe chimed in from their respective anarchist and nihilist verses, showcasing one of their best moments as a true unit on stage. Aiming to calm things down ever so slightly, Phoebe cooled things off with the gentle "Emily I'm Sorry," but naturally the crowd was overjoyed as soon as she took to the microphone and once again joined in at a remarkable volume. Lucy followed the pattern with "True Blue" and the crowd overtook once more to sing "you say you're a winter bitch, but summer's in your blood" making it clear that this would be the case for the night and all three members on stage couldn't have looked more thrilled to be experiencing this moment in real time. Julien addressed the crowd briefly to mention her nerves around the show and how she had to keep her eyes closed to be able to focus before taking the band into a transcendent "Cool About It," a song so soft you could hear a pin drop as the finger-picked acoustic guitar rang out over an enraptured crowd. "Souvenir" took things back to their first EP and "Bite the Hand" brought more of their heavier themes back to the show before they broke into solo numbers, each backed by the other two members of the group. It's hard to distinguish if there's a clear favorite in the group as each reaction for any member seems to be louder than the one before it and the support shown between them all onstage suggests they also view this as an entirely equal adventure. When they got to their early fan-favorite, Phoebe cut the track and asked that everyone in the crowd hold up a picture of their dog during a pivotal moment of the song and then resumed for an absolutely monstrous "Me & My Dog," which featured a show-stopping chant of "I wanna be emaciated" that briefly paused time. Balancing between their softer, piano ballads and their blitzed-out bangers, the command the band has onstage continues to amaze and their presence only grows stronger. "Who was at our Brooklyn Steel show in 2018?" Phoebe asked the crowd (yours truly was!) before declaring "when we were in band therapy, we all said that was our favorite show ever, but it feels like it was a warm-up for this!" The authority they hold as voices of their generation is astounding and inspirational to watch and it's clear just how well they understand their power. Ending with yet another fan-favorite, "Not Strong Enough" once again brought the volume of the crowd to an all-time high and as the chant of "always an angel, never a god" hit, the screams multiplied and the building began to shake. Following what seemed like a normal break for intermission, the band reappeared as a trio on a smaller stage at the opposite end of the venue and a mad-dash broke out on the floor as people flocked to get close for the intimate performance. Over the past several tour dates, the band has been debuting new songs, all of which are set to appear on their upcoming EP the rest, which is out on October 13, and tonight the band played the new release in-full from the middle edge of the floor as a sold-out Madison Square Garden watched with amazement. The band quickly sprinted back to the main stage to close out the night almost like they began, a brilliantly harmonized "Ketchum, ID" that found Phoebe leading on acoustic guitar while Lucy and Julien sat by her sides to add their stunning voices to the mix. Going out with a final bang, Julien plugged in her electric guitar one last time to strike with a vengeance on a buzzing "Salt in the Wound." As her solo began to tower, Phoebe ran to the crowd to stage dive while MUNA reappeared on the second stage to join in on the party. Julien climbed the riser as she continued to unleash her ripping solo while Lucy tore off her shirt as Phoebe joined suit after jumping back out of the crowd, ending with a tackle to Lucy as the rolled on the ground in total bewilderment of the status they'd just achieved, a queer homecoming and celebration unlike any other. A moment led by a new generation and for a new generation, one that sees the freedom of expression and the unbridled joy that came with it. 

MUNA set list:

01 "What I Want"
02 "Number One Fan"
03 "Stayaway"
04 "Runner's High"
05 "Home by Now"
06 "Taken"
07 "No Idea"
08 "One That Got Away"
09 "Anything but Me"
10 "I Know a Place"
11 "Silk Chiffon" [with Phoebe Bridgers]

boygenius set list:

01 "Without You Without Them"
02 "$20"
03 "Satanist"
04 "Emily I'm Sorry"
05 "True Blue"
06 "Cool About It"
07 "Souvenir"
08 "Bite the Hand"
09 "Revolution 0"
10 "Stay Down"
11 "Leonard Cohen"
12 "Please Stay" [Lucy Dacus song]
13 "Favor" [Julien Baker song]
14 "Graceland Too" [Phoebe Bridgers song]
15 "Me & My Dog"
16 "We're in Love"
17 "Anti‐Curse"
18 "Letter to an Old Poet"
19 "Not Strong Enough"
20 "Black Hole"
21 "Afraid of Heights"
22 "Voyager"
23 "Powers"
24 "Ketchum, ID"
25 "Salt in the Wound" [with MUNA]

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