Fine Line welcomed back Bully and their Minnesota-native front woman, Alicia Bognanno, with open arms Tuesday night. Despite a lengthy list of COVID-19 protocols for fans – mask-mandate, proof of vaccination and/or negative test results – Bully’s highly-anticipated tour stop in Minneapolis had no problem selling out. On tour for their 4th album release, SUGAREGG, Bully’s Bognanno reeled in her audience with a riptide of raspy howls, high-energy hooks, Cobain head-screams and even a Prince cover, for good measure.
After a 2020 summer of Nirvana and Orville Peck quarantine covers, albeit glorious covers, Bognanno was finally able to debut songs from her new solo-recorded album. The evening was a myriad of new jangly rocket-fueled tracks and classic favorites.
Opening the evening was Tweens. This female-led “trash-pop” band from Cincinatti was the perfect opener choice for Bully. Decked out in boots, stockings, bad-ass bangs and brat-punk attitude, Bridget Battle’s charisma on stage was captivating. The clear “leader of the pack,” Battle balances hot-headed vocals with gnarly guitar play soaked in reverb. Gritty, upbeat favorites of the night included “McMicken” and “Be Mean,” from Tweens’ self-titled 2014 album
Tweens’ stage antics were on full display and the crowd was lovin’ it. The guitarist and bassist riffed off one another back-to-back, occasionally striking a pose or a literal “lick” of the guitar. At one point, Battle even dropped to her knees and rammed her face into a blasting amp, thrashing on the stage. It was as though she was trying to grab the distortion by the balls.
Safe to say, Fine Line was definitely amped up at this point. More and more people began to fill every corner of the venue, some jockeying for a closer position up front and others trying to quickly sneak in one more beer before entering into the growing mosh of people. Before closing out, Tweens gave a nod and a gracious “thank you” to Bognanno for having them on tour. Class acts, and one of the most energetic openers I’ve seen in a long time.
A deep, magenta haze hung over the stage as the crowd waited for Alicia Bognanno’s entrance. Two best friends put their arms around each other for a tight pre-show “squeeze,” the deadpan, First Ave security member sitting on her stool fidgeted with admitted excitement and the chatty guy behind me in the Bad Bad Hats shirt suddenly became very quiet. Finally, Bully entered the stage. Met with a roar of applause, Bognanno kicked off the evening with “Add it On” off 2020’s SUGAREGG.
After dipping into a few older hits off 2017’s Losing and 2015’s debut Feels Like, Bognanno paused to smile and take in the crowd. She mentioned her love for Minneapolis and how great it felt to be back in this space, especially in the company of her best friend and dad in the audience.
Her sincerity seamlessly segwayed to more broody, 90s nostalgia from Feels Like, eventually making her way to newer material. Listening to her perform “Feel the Same,” especially while recalling the numbness and grief of 2020, struck me differently this time around.
Bognanno’s stinging lyrics and rugged vocals tap into a place of vulnerability that is raw, relatable and often filled with rage. Whether you are “trying” to get a handle on recurring worries and doubts or just “feel like trash” and want to scream it from the fucking rooftops, Bully’s serrated melodies bring the listener to a place where they are allowed to steep in those feelings.
SUGAREGG manages to capture the same invigorating energy and deeply personal songwriting of the band’s earlier work, although it is the first Bully album to be engineered by someone other than Bognanno. (John Congleton, known for his work with Angel Olsen, Sharon Van Etten, and Moses Sumney, helped her on this one).
Performing some of her newer tracks live, Bognanno threw in a lot of variety. She keeps our energy up with the up-tempo, shout-along tracks like “Where to Start,” blissfully pulls us in with love-letter-like words of advice in “Come Down” and lets memories of pain linger like a sun-streaked daydream in “Prism.”
Despite the interruption of an aggressive dude in the back, who Bognanno explicitly stopped to call out mid-song, the set was seamless. Following that unfortunate incident – and the concertgoer’s prompt removal by security – she reassured the crowd that this was now a safe space and pulled off a rousing rendition of “Trying.” Fan favorite, “Milkman” was the set-closer, but to our delight the band played a hauntingly beautiful cover of Prince‘s “Nothing Compares 2 U” for a sentimental encore.
Walking out of Fine Line, I let that sentimental wave continue to wash over me – a wave goodbye from some familiar faces behind the bar, the waft of secondhand smoke that met me outside the doors, two boots sticky with spilled beer and the comfort that tonight live music was back. Oh, how I missed it.