Lucy Dacus is haunting, yet optimistic at Union Transfer

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Lucy Dacus | photo by Michelle Montgomery for WXPN | michellemontgomeryphotography.com

When Lucy Dacus appeared onstage, there was an audible shift in the room, background murmur dying down to a rapt hush. “I’m from Richmond,” she said, introducing the song “Yours & Mine.” “I wrote this in frustration of where I live and to write myself out of the shame of being an American. I think you have to do things that make you active and feel like you’re participating in the good parts of the world.” The lyrics describe the disillusionment of returning home, that feeling of not belonging anymore. Much of her acclaimed album Historian grapples with similarly tough themes, asserting a stony optimism in the face of disaster. This resilient demeanor carried across the breadth of her Thursday night concert in Philadelphia. 

Fenne Lily | photo by Michelle Montgomery for WXPN | michellemontgomeryphotography.com

The silver-haired Fenne Lily was mid-song when I slipped through the doors of Union Transfer, shedding my rain-soaked jacket. The British singer revealed snippets of her dry, cutting humor, asking someone fidgeting nervously in the crowd, “You feel bored at this point in the set, but you don’t want to lose your spot?” While many of the set’s tracks came from debut album On Hold, a few unknowns stood out, my favorite a song called “I, Nietzsche.” “This is about a boy I knew who referred to himself and Nietzsche as ‘we’. But, he had an amazing body and he spoke three languages.”

Mal Blum | photo by Michelle Montgomery for WXPN | michellemontgomeryphotography.com

Mal Blum is the anxious voice inside all of our heads, spilling forth an edgy inner monologue about feeling out of place at parties, or awkward encounters with strangers. They opened with “Archive,” their voice cut with laughter while singing the first lines: “Spending Friday night alone / I’m reading Campus frat boy porn / Strewn on the table for my roommate / When he finally gets home.” Mal Blum’s songs enhance reality, transforming the mundane into something meaningful, magnifying the absurd hilarity of every moment of being human. “Better Than I Was” was written about their experience working as a barista and accidentally making people uncomfortable by complaining about a breakup. “Robert Frost” is a lyrical poem, full of allusions and alliteration.

Lucy Dacus | photo by Michelle Montgomery for WXPN | michellemontgomeryphotography.com

In her headlining set, Dacus revived some well-known songs off 2016’s No Burden, among them the rapid paced “Direct Address” and the sweetly endearing “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore.” She entranced the crowd with her cover of Edith Piaf’s classic love song, “La Vie En Rose.” “To anyone who actually speaks French, I’m sorry,” she said— although I couldn’t have imagined a more perfect rendition.

Towards the end of the set she confirmed that, yes, it was the Philly native Dominic Angelella on the bass. The band was joined by Fenne Lily for closer “Night Shift.” “The first time I tasted somebody else’s spit / I had a coughing fit / I mistakenly called them by your name / I was let down, it wasn’t the same,” Dacus sang, her operatic voice floating somewhere above our heads, walking down our spines, haunting us all the way home. 

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