Lucy Dacus opened her September 30th show at College Street Music Hall with the ballad “Triple Dog Dare,” an eight-minute gut-punch detailing the forbidden love between two childhood friends. It takes gall to start with such a track––one whose haunting refrain drew Dacus’ 2021 album Home Video to a cathartic close. But, given the crowd’s overjoyed reaction, it was clear that Dacus knew exactly what she was doing.
The “Hot & Heavy” singer was cool and lithe on stage, ethereal in a flowing white skirt, yet ready to rock in her sensible white sneakers. She inhabited the venue with charming confidence, flashing contagious smiles and heart gestures at the crowd between songs. Dacus’ presence was as tender as her lyrics, as reverberant as her vocals. She commanded the room’s attention with stunning ease. When Dacus spoke, the crowd listened.
Dacus and her band have a way of breathing new life into a song you’ve heard a thousand times over. Each live rendition added layers of meaning to her emotionally dense and literary lyrics. Hearing the words Dacus chose to accentuate on stage initiated a conversation between writer and witness,between author and muse. With each song she sang, it was as though the memory that first inspired Dacus’ pen was flashing anew before her eyes. I found myself disagreeing with the lyrics of her track “First Time,” where she warns: “You can’t feel it for the first time, a second time.” In Dacus’ presence, one feels everything over and over again, just as raw each successive time.
Especially powerful in the set was Dacus’ rendition of “Thumbs.” The track’s washes of white noise adapted incredibly to the stage, filling the venue with rumbling whispers of quiet rage, captivating the audience in a trance of murderous ideation. “I would kill him, quick and easy,” Dacus promised––a lyric referencing her friend’s deadbeat father––and I found myself convinced that the crowd around me would follow through, too, given the vigor with which they chanted along. This seething resentment was one of many charged emotions the show stirred within fans. Dacus channeled pure anguish in her performance of “Night Shift,” another fan-favorite slow-burn ballad and opener to her 2018 album Historian.
Dacus closed the show with an unreleased song, performing solo on guitar under the condition that the audience not record. “Is film camera okay?” asked someone in the crowd. Chuckling, Dacus responded, “Sure, film camera’s okay.” She retreated from the stage after this last song without much fanfare, drawing a gentle end to a performance that was at once grandiose and intimate, confident and self-conscious, timeless and urgent. This, to me, is what renders Dacus unmatched as a live act––her rare ability to make each fleeting moment feel precious.