Bully’s music is raw, emotional, and in your face. Alicia Bognanno howls unwaveringly about anxiety, relationships, and the general difficulties of day-to-day life. Bully is an unflinching look behind the veil of put on faces and hidden emotions. The band found its perfect match in Allston on Sunday, because there’s nowhere to hide at Great Scott.
The friendly and cramped confines of Great Scott break down the barriers between performers and fans. Before the show Bognanno and the rest of the band were traipsing around to the bar, merch table, and stage. This gave fans the chance to whisper to their friends and silently freak out. The freewheeling atmosphere engendered an esprit de corps in the room and the crowd was practically buzzing throughout the night.
Before Bully, Aye Nako set the scene for the rest of the night. The punks from Brooklyn took the stage full of confidence and turned in a set that was tight, loud, and primed the crowd to have a night that was about letting go. Aye Nako’s sound is explosive but they structure their songs so as to include moments where you can reflect on the soft core inside the hard outer shell. Moving melodies sprang out of raucous breakdowns throughout the set and this gave their sound a refined edge. Aye Nako’s penchant for balancing straight-up rocking out with space for reflection was the perfect prelude before Bully took the stage.
There’s nowhere to hide from the noise at Great Scott, either. The sound system at the venue can conservatively be described as thunderous. Standing at the far back wall during a set is akin to front-row center at other venues. Let a band of voracious shredders like Bully wield this kind of power and you have a recipe for an uptick in reported tinnitus cases in the greater Boston area.
But it’s Bully’s not-so-secret weapon that saved ear drums and made for a thrilling live performance. Bognanno is a disciple of Steve Albini and a certified studio wizard. Her skills at wrangling the most out of technical equipment were on full display at Great Scott. The band sounded crisp and almost shockingly similar to their recorded version. Bognanno and the band hit every note perfectly. Somehow, Bognanno even screamed note-for-note as she does on the album. The live rendition of “Feel the Same” (the standout single from new album Losing) perfectly captured the songs juxtaposition of ennui with emotional release.
The feel-good nature of the evening permeated every part of the set. Bognanno smiled more than you’d think someone who writes emotionally heavy songs and yowls every chance she gets would. The crowd met each song with enthusiastic headbangs. Bully’s catalog is just a little bigger than one set list and they did their best to cram as much of it in as they could. Tracks from Losing were interwoven with songs from debut Feels Like in such a way that it highlighted the cohesion of Bully’s sound and the sureness they have in who they are as a band.
After a breakneck run through a handful of songs, the band left the stage. Realizing that, truly, there is nowhere to hide at Great Scott, not even to catch your breath before an encore, they quickly bounded back on stage. Set closer “I Remember” was transformed into a rendition that would have made Albini smile. All of the fat was cut out of the song—not that there was much to begin with. A 1:48 long song was reduced to its pure essence of gut punch after gut punch about the things left behind after a breakup. And just like that, the show was over. The house lights came up and the band was face-to-face with the audience.