During boygenius’ performance of “Bite The Hand” at their recently sold-out Madison Square Garden show, the stage cameras that had been diligently following the three musicians on stage suddenly swung away and pointed their lens at the audience. In black and white, a sea of ecstatic, tear-stained faces filled the arena’s jumbo screen. Some were crying, all were singing — screaming — every word in unison looking equal parts shocked, surprised, and beaming with joy. It was one of the most moving moments of the night; a moment that highlighted the powerful relationship the biggest supergroup in the world right now has with their fans.
The idea to focus on the fans during “Bite The Hand” came directly from Phoebe Bridgers. “Phoebe literally was like, ‘You know what? [During] ‘Bite the Hand,’ on this lyric? We've got to be on the fans, that's the moment,’” recalls London-based creative director Bronski on brainstorming the show’s creative direction with the band. The lyric in question is the one the song is centered around: “I can’t love you how you want me to,” a line that Lucy Dacus’ once said encapsulates the band’s “complicated relationship with fans.” But when performed live, its bite softens; it turns into something more wistful and tender, maybe because of the cameras. “The first show we did that for in San Diego, on the Re:SET tour, the fans went crazy for it,” Bronski says. “Once again this boils down to how well the boys know each other and also their fans.”
Boygenius’ “the tour,” which is one show away from wrapping its 2023 schedule, has become a certified sensation due to moments like “Bite The Hand” and more that continue to highlight the trio’s unmatched dynamic as friends and acclaimed musicians. After a huge kick-off performance at Coachella 2023, the show grew from being a part of a multi-artist concert series, into its own headlining extravaganza (complete with fan projects), into now selling out its largest stages yet at Madison Square Garden and, later this year, Los Angeles’s Hollywood Bowl.
Along the way, Bronski and co-creative partner Amber Rimell of the studio TAWBOX worked with the band to realize their vision of a live show, a performance that could flip gritty rock ‘n’ roll tropes on their heads while encapsulating the spirit of the band. “[We created] a set for them that was rock,” Bronski says. “And felt, I don't know, like a punch in the face at a boygenius show.”
A massive part of the boygenius’ “the tour” show is built around live documentary-like footage. The show begins off-stage, a single camcorder looking on as the boys perform “Without You Without Them” a capella in the wings of the venue. When they finally run on the stage, it’s against a backdrop of themselves magnified tenfold on the screen, their three digital likenesses overlapping, interacting, and melding into one another.
The live footage is the biggest part of the show creatively, a distinct break-away from the standard play-by-play mirroring of what’s happening on stage onto the screen. Throughout the two-hour long set, the jumbo screen looked more like music video footage, sending live feed of what’s happening on stage through visual effect filters and woozy 2D graphics, translating what was being heard into a visual experience. During one especially poignant moment for “Cool About It,” Bridgers, Dacus and Baker, who were occupying different sections of the screen, were suddenly edited so their faces are hovering next to each others’, like three ghostly heads serenading in unison.
“That idea came about because generally when you listen to it, Julien sings the verse, then she sings the chorus, then Lucy sings the next verse, and then Julien and Lucy sing the chorus together, and then Phoebe sings the next verse, and then Phoebe, Lucy and Julien all sing the chorus together. So you've got that element of each time they sing a verse, they're adding one, adding one, adding one,” Bronski says about that specific effect. “That visual is just doing exactly what they're doing vocally.”
Per Bronski, around nine live cameras are shooting various parts of the stage at once in order to execute this ambitious vision: usually three manned cameras on each of the boys, two handheld cameras in the pit, and four mini cameras dotted around the stage to capture the band. “What it does is it takes you on a little journey,” he says. “Another part that just brings up the beautifulness of boygenius as a whole.”
Beyond the visuals, a slew of smaller but no less important details amplified the show’s gritty, larger-than-life quality. The band wanted to play with elements you’d find at a classic ‘70s or ‘80s rock show, “and how could you bring that into 2023 with three girls slash boys,” says Rimell. So Rimell and Bronski avoided anything LED and only used real “Edison light bulb light” (“tungsten” was Dacus’ specific request); scuffed and dirtied up all the metal supports that made up the erected band platforms; and sourced lighting rigs from 1980s rock shows. Another minor detail that was a direct reference to classic rock bands? The psychedelic rainbow overlay that appears during “Revolution Zero.” “That was a real reference to the Beatles in that era,” Bronski says.
For a band created in-part as a response to the classic guy supergroups of classic rock, perhaps it makes sense that boygenius’ “the tour” live show is the closest approximation to a “real rock” show 2023 has seen. There’s drama, intrigue, a crowd-surfing moment, and provocation in spades (Bridgers and Dacus running around topless during “Salt The Wound”). There’s also a real, true focus on the music. “[The boys] are serious musicians who sing and play guitar to incredible standards, and obviously have this beautiful gel between the three of them when it comes to playing together and harmonizing with each other,” Bronski says. “It's all about the music, at the end of the day.”
At their Madison Square Garden’s show, no moment affirmed that more than the headline-making occasion after the encore — the show after the show, where boygenius performed four unreleased songs from the forthcoming ‘the rest’ EP (another moment to “create that little bit of chaos” and “[get] in close with the fans once again,” says Bronski). Alone on a B-stage set in the center of the arena and under the glow of red lights, armed with nothing but their guitars, they played with no shiny effects, no fancy tricks. And yet the screams that met them were the loudest of all.