New York City started to look pretty apocalyptic this past Tuesday evening as the smoke from Canadian wildfires blew south. The setting sun took on an other-worldly red-orange hue and the air smelled like a bonfire. As I walked from the subway to Racket, confused people blocked the sidewalks, taking pictures of the haze. Despite the ominous situation outside, the evening of raucous yet melodic music raised everyone’s spirits, a testament to the unique talents of both groups of musicians. Note to self: when looking for a soundtrack of perseverance in challenging times, look to Bully and Sub*T. Got it!
The Brooklyn-based quartet Sub*T started out the night, getting the crowd moving with catchy guitar riffs, driving drums, and tight vocal harmonies from guitarist Jade Alcantara and bassist Grace Bennett (who are also the lead songwriters of the project). I had the pleasure of catching Sub*T back in October, opening for The Linda Lindas at Music Hall of Williamsburg. The crowd for that show included more girls under the age of 12 than I’ve ever experienced at a concert, but the Racket audience was definitely different demographically. Alcantara sarcastically gave “love” to the men up front at one point, saying “shout out to the wall of men up front” who, it should be noted, made not one effort to move to let shorter folks like myself or any non-men see better. (Remember “girls to the front”? Guess not.) She also mentioned that the show was the first in a while for Sub*T, and that they were playing out with a new drummer for the first time who did a fantastic job. Alicia Bognanno of Bully recorded, produced, and mixed Sub*T’s debut EP So Green in 2021, and it was clear on Tuesday how extremely honored Sub*T was to share a stage with her.
Back in 2013, Bully began as a trio with Bognanno as frontwoman (vocals/guitar), central songwriter, and producer of their 2014 self titled EP and 2015 debut album, Feels Like. She has weathered many storms since then, including being diagnosed with Bipolar II disorder and getting sober. She’s also grown as an artist, claiming Bully fully as a solo project with 2020’s LP, Sugaregg. The lengthy set at Racket on Tuesday featured songs from all four albums, taking the riveted audience on a tour through her discography, with a special focus on the most recent album, Lucky For You, released via Sub Pop on June 2nd (read our review).
Bully at Racket (photo by Kate Hoos)
The set began with “Where to Start” (from Sugaregg), the fuzzy guitars growling and Bognanno’s signature raspy wail ringing out over the bouncing crowd. The lyrics say she doesn’t know where to start, but Bognanno and company knew exactly where to begin and where they were taking us; everyone in that room got the joke. The next four songs jumped back to Feels Like, including “Sharktooth,” a digital edition bonus track from the album (that initially appeared on their 2014 EP) that is a triumphant celebration of escaping a toxic relationship. They closed out the first phase of the set with the frenetic energy of “Feel the Same” from 2017’s Losing.
From there, the adoring crowd got to hear almost the entirety of Lucky for You mixed throughout the set. Recorded in her hometown of Nashville with producer J.T. Daly, Bognanno took her time with the most recent album, recording the ten songs over the course of seven months, the longest period of time she’s taken on any Bully album to date. She has admitted her discomfort with the slower-paced recording process, sharing on her Bandcamp: “I was freaking out about it at first, because taking my time was so new for me. But a few months in, I realized how crucial that time ended up being. I got songs out of it that I wouldn’t have had otherwise…With every record, I feel more and more secure in terms of doing what I want…For this one, I wanted to be as creative as possible with these songs.”
That creative spark was positively crackling in the air at Racket, with Bognanno smiling between songs, saying that this was her best show ever in New York. A special standout from Lucky for You on Tuesday was “Days Move Slow,” an elegiac pop-grunge tribute to her beloved dog, Mezzi, who passed away prior to the album coming out. (A picture of Mezzi lovingly adorns the front of Bognanno’s amp.) Other crowd-pleasers from the recent album included the barnstormer “All I Do” and “Lose You” (which on the album is a duet with fellow Nashville musician Sophie Allison, aka Soccer Mommy). They finished off the set with the more political songs, “Ms. America” and the rage-fueled “All This Noise,” which also close out the new album as a pair.
Not content for things to end so soon, the crowd erupted into cheers and didn’t quiet until Bognanno returned to the stage for an encore, solo for the first couple of songs, including “These Days,” a Jackson Browne cover before the rest of the band ran back onstage for one final punk rock ripper, “Milkman,” also off of the first EP (and later Feels Like) bringing the evening full circle.
Bully will be hitting the road this summer with The Pixies and Franz Ferdinand. When Bognanno mentioned the tour, this was met with cheers and someone in the crowd yelled out, “You’re better than them!” She just smiled and said, “Yeah, I can dream.” I would say your dreams are coming true, Alicia!
Scroll down for setlist, pics of the show (photos by Kate Hoos)
Setlist: Where To Start, Trying, Sharktooth, I Remember, Trash, Feel the Same, Change Your Mind, How Will I Know, A Wonderful Life, Hard to Love, Lose You, A Love Profound, All I Do, Days Move Slow, Ms. America, All This Noise Encore: new song (solo), These Days (Jackson Browne cover), Milkman