Bully let the music do the talking at X-Ray Arcade
The first time the audience saw Alicia Bognanno of Bully on a rainy Saturday night in Cudahy, she barely lifted her head to acknowledge them.
This wasn’t a diss or indifference or grumpiness or anything like that. She and her band simply set to work prepping their instruments and in-ear monitors, making sure everything was just so for the 90-plus minutes ahead of us. Amid all that preparation, Bully did something I’d never experienced before in my many years of concert-going:
They set up this looping, droning wall of noise and promptly left the stage.
Rather than use a favorite song or some in-joke as their intro music when the concert properly began, they made their own on the spot. Across nearly 10 minutes, it swelled and regressed, building a palpable sense of — as a famous doctor once said — antici …
Finally, the band returned. And in those 90-plus minutes that followed, Bognanno put on one of the more remarkable vocal displays I’ve ever seen in person.
A little context is needed for that superlative. Last week, we ran an interview with Bognanno in which her voice was shredded. If singing styles were automobiles, hers is more dragster than sedan; it operates in the red with great frequency, and at the time of the interview she was coming off a month-long run of shows that clearly took a toll.
After a two-week breather, Bully was back at it the night before in Minneapolis. And as I stood along the wall at X-Ray Arcade, in my head I still heard that taxed larynx from the interview. Then Bognanno did this:
It was as much a statement of intent as an opening number. “All I Do” is one of the more vocally challenging entries from Lucky For You, Bully’s latest album, and Bognanno crushed it — then kept crushing as she worked her way through a set heavy on selections from the LP.
From a technical perspective, she sounded very good. But Bully’s sound is as much about getting emotion across as musical ability, particularly when the subject matter is as heavy as this album’s (if you don’t know that backstory, listen to the interview). What pushed the experience to a higher level was the passion in the performance. The facial contortions. The defiant delivery. Bognanno nudged her vocals right up to the breaking point, held it there and then retreated — over and over.
As the night progressed, it became clear that — like the pre-show prep — conversational audience interaction wasn’t high on the list of priorities. Between songs, something very similar to that droning wall of noise returned to serve as a bridge while the band got everything lined up for what was next. All four members were on point throughout, with Nick Byrd on bass a personal highlight due to both his musical acumen and bouncing/occasional whirling to Bognanno’s left.
She kept him busy on both counts, stopping to offer a friendly comment just twice during the show. Again, there wasn’t a hint of discontent coming from the stage or the sold-out crowd. It’s just that neither party was interested in chit-chat. They were there for loud, emotive, straight-ahead rock and roll. And they got it.