Always an Angeleno, Never a God
By A. J. UrquidiNovember 6, 2023
Emo-folk supergroup boygenius joined hyperpop scoundrels 100 gecs and cinematic chamber-rockers Sloppy Jane for a Halloween bonanza at Hollywood Bowl, and it was a graveyard smash. The historic amphitheater was decked out with jack-o’-lantern cutouts and skeletons-and-hellhounds merch, even a photo-op paddock featuring hay bales, pumpkins, and the show’s ubiquitous, gothy poster. Costumes rightfully abounded: a surplus of Luigis and Gerwigian Barbie-Kens overwhelmed the stands, in addition to one clever Jimmy Neutron (Boy Genius).
The festivities opened with Sloppy Jane, a musical-theater-of-the-grotesque troupe that once counted boygenius’s Phoebe Bridgers among its ranks. Alongside her roster of orchestral players, Jane mastermind Haley Dahl faithfully covered MCR’s “Cancer,” a harrowing baroque piece from the otherwise guitar-dominated Black Parade. Dahl’s high-school bestie, Bridgers-as-a-ghost, accompanied them to showcase new song “Claw Machine.” Ultimately, SJ dressed up the night in another holiday as they led the crowd in a New Year’s countdown for wistful, bombastic Madison climax “The Constable.”
A more eclectic genre choice followed Sloppy Jane: YouTube’s favorite glitchy Bart Simpsons, 100 gecs. With demonic laughter refrains accentuating the devil horns above “Hollywood Bowel,” Laura Les and Dylan Brady of “100 ghouls,” as their typical Fantasia-style wizard personas, navigated marijuanal fog-machine haze on an otherwise empty stage to speedrun autotuned raps over backing tracks. ADHD energy and stoner irreverence are the pair’s main draw in the meme age, and boy did they deliver, altering song titles to “spooky horse” and “666” while constantly false-promising a guest appearance from prolific drummer-for-hire Josh Freese, who eventually arrived to prove it hadn’t been a prank. Freese’s skills bolstered gecs’ site-specific pop-punk single (about a fictional place called “Hollywood,” said Les) plus ska operas and epic earworms. They tackled nearly as many classics as tracks from spring’s awesome sophomore effort 10,000 gecs.
Unfortunately, disappointments tainted the ambience. First, the Bowl’s screens remained dead since doors opened. The band’s goofy flailing demands visual assistance for nosebleed-sitters to transcend merely listening to outdoor Spotify, yet stage smoke mystified gecs’ physical presence to anyone beyond the millionaire pit. Next, a cringy ruffian arrived behind me annoyingly late, accepting her divine mission to loudly disparage the spritely, benevolent band throughout their remaining set, quipping “I fucking hate this band” and “I’m glad I didn’t see more of this shit. God, they suck.” I suspected she might be an audience plant since gecs would’ve found her sourpuss performativity hilarious; regardless, this energy vampire slurped up all of section Q1’s vibes. Finally, the band tragically abstained from playing beloved banger “Doritos & Fritos,” a fan favorite; were gecs too full from dinner to eat burritos with Danny DeVito?
A Tongva land acknowledgment initiated the main attraction, a wide-ranging set by queer demigods boygenius that spanned their entire studio-recorded discography. Stadium screens finally ignited to reveal Phoebers, Julien Baker, and Lucy Dacus backstage harmonizing on the record’s opening hymnal before marching on-stage with angel-winged backing band to chug through “$20.” America’s uncle Dave Grohl handled drums on riff-heavy “Satanist,” a perfect theme for the religious iconography of the evening (the “boys” dressed as a tongue-in-cheek Holy Trinity). Tears gagged nearby teens as they sang along to “Emily I’m Sorry”—my introduction to the overpowering effect of boygenius’s endearing sisterhood, off-stage antics, and novelistic songwriting on very online superfans.
After scattering chunks of their 2018 debut EP and 2023 full-length, boygenius ended their initial set with gut-wrenching abuse callout “Letter to an Old Poet” and the record’s arena-hungry teaser “Not Strong Enough,” during which I succumbed to the crying virus plaguing the crowd. On a B-stage among the upper seats, with stars and moon enraptured above the hillside, the geniuses reassembled to perform their October-released quiet, spacey outtakes, democratically affording their budget stans an up-close chance to swoon. The hypnotic interlude concluded with the trio bolting back to the bandshell to cover each other’s pre-genius-solo-career standouts. Their debut’s closing tracks inverted for the finale: Baker manifested an effortlessly sapphic guitar solo while they tackled, mounted, and Frenched each other, singlehandedly turning 17,000 Angelenos gay if they weren’t already.
Halloween was the perfect night to congregate an aberrant circus of eerie weirdos, LGBTQIA+ outcasts, and Tumblr freaks for this particularly chaotic, elegant, internet-pilled lineup. It was a collective cathartic reprieve from exhausting waves of capitalists’ planetary destruction, ever-expanding violence against oppressed peoples globally, and rising domestic extremism against the type of citizens attending this concert. And while everyone in surrounding Hollywood was tricking-out masks and makeup to embody someone else, the Bowl gave us a real treat, a concentrated bastion of underdogs finding strength to inhabit their true selves, if only for one night.
Photo by contributor.
LARB Short Take live event reviews are published in partnership with the nonprofit Online Journalism Project and the Independent Review Crew.
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