We here at Rust Is Just Right are big fans of Bully’s debut album, Feels Like, and we jumped at the opportunity to catch this exciting young group in action. They stopped by one of our favorite Portland venues over the weekend, delivering a tight and energetic set at Mississippi Studios this past Saturday night.
Bully, in the middle of “Trying”
It is always strange when you see a headliner touring behind a single album, since you already know what the set will be. There are only a few potential variables, namely whether or not any songs will be stretched out or whether any covers will be thrown into the mix, but beyond that everything else is known. Considering Bully’s quick and punchy songs, there was almost no chance that we would see an extended jam session, but we did witness a couple of covers (which after some research seems to be “Black and White” from the dB’s and “Who Was in My Room Last Night?” from the Butthole Surfers), plus an impromptu “Happy Birthday” sing-along with the aid of the crowd for a member of the opening band.
As for the regular set, the band faithfully recreated what we heard on the record, and captured the spirit of the album. Leader Alicia Bognanno’s yell was in perfect condition, and she also showed a nice delicate touch with her vocals during some of the softer moments. Though they have only been touring behind this album for a few months, Bully sounded like a group of old pros.
Seems like a good motto.
Openers Dead Soft were a perfect fit for the bill, with their sound covering similar 90’s indie rock territory as Bully. Heat was an intriguing second band, as they mixed several different influences from various eras of rock (including a strong Velvet Underground vibe in their first song). However, their frontman could use a little more practice in doing some crowdwork, as he came off a bit standoffish when there was little reason for it.
We are seemingly living in a boom period for garage rock. Perhaps this is merely a result of musicians branching off from the general 90’s indie rock revival,* as part of the general tendency of artists to look to the recent past for inspiration. At the same time, bands are opting for a more stripped-down take on the “punk” music that dominated rock radio at the time, while at the same time . Questions of origin aside, one finds that the bills at local shows are being filled out more and more by garage rock bands, and now with this wave we are seeing their records getting wider release. The recent debut album from Bully is one of the most promising examples of this trend, as Feels Like is an exhilarating burst of adrenaline that stands out as one of the most exciting records of the summer.
Feels Like comes fast and furious at ten tracks in half an hour, with most songs hitting you in the gut immediately and then not making sure to overstay their welcome. The drums pop and the guitars cut through with an almost-too-perfect amount of distortion, though the most distinctive element is easily Alicia Bognanno’s infectious yell, a perfect mixture of anger and vulnerability. Listen to the pain and anguish of her vocals as Bognanno tears into opener “I Remember” as the band chugs along with barely-contained fury, setting the stage perfectly for the rest of the album.
Some critics and listeners may feel that the music on Feels Like is too derivative of their alternative idols, and it cannot be argued that Bully is trying to reinvent the wheel here. However, there are enough hooks that are plowed through with the right amount of energy that should downplay the concerns of everyone but only the most steadfast detractors. Even on post-grunge-by-numbers tracks like “Trying” the band displays a knack for hooks that is hard to resist.
Bully may not be a revolutionary act, but with Feels Like they have created one of the most infectious albums of the summer, proving sometimes it is best to listen to your gut instead of your mind. There is no need to overanalyze the music–just strap yourself in and enjoy this blast of invigorating punk rock.
*See: Parquet Courts, Waxahatchee, Yuck, Speedy Ortiz, etc.