“I have goosebumps,” said a friend I ran into at the Fine Line Tuesday night for the sold-out Bully show. It was his first concert since the pandemic began. “I’m vaccinated. I don’t love it,” he said about having to follow the band’s mask requirement for the concert, “but it’s what we have to do.”
Just a week before the show, Minnesota-born and Tennessee-based Alicia Bognanno’s band announced all attendees would be required to wear face masks, in addition to showing proof of a negative COVID test or vaccination. The move has become increasingly common for touring acts, and artists including Phoebe Bridgers and Harry Styles have added similar requirements for their Twin Cities performances.
It felt nostalgic and thrilling to wait for the doors to open while Fine Line employees checked IDs and passed out wristbands to over-21 attendees. When it was my turn in line, I struggled juggling my mask and phone with vaccination records while wrestling out my ID. I’ll be more prepared next time. It wasn’t a significant hiccup, and frankly, I was grateful for the efforts to keep concertgoers safe and live music revived. (Later in the night, Fine Line employees told me things were smooth getting people in the doors, and bartenders happily said they did not see a reduction in beer sales due to the safety requirements.)
Signs requesting fans keep their faces covered unless eating or drinking greeted merch-table visitors and were posted throughout. Even a night of music and revelry — something many of us turn to for a break from the world’s troubles — showed evidence of life continuously adapting to a pandemic we still face daily. And, because it’s Minneapolis, most audience members were more than happy to Minnesota-nicely comply. With the exception of a few middle-aged white dudes, audience members were diligent about masks covering their mouths and noses unless they were quickly sneaking sips of their beers.
By the time opener Cincinnati four-piece Tweens stepped onstage, Fine Line was bustling with bodies, and people were wise to show up early. Hearing lead singer Bridget Battle’s husky growl leaves no question that Tweens is a perfect tourmate for Bully. The crowd bobbed their heads along to bouncy melodies, upbeat with a little bit of grit. Their self-described “trash-pop” garnered positive hoots from the crowd, especially for the punchy “Be Mean” and pleading, sugary crooner “Cold Shoulder.”
After the warmup from Tweens, the crowd was buzzing for the local live debut of songs from Bognanno’s solo-recorded 2020 release, Sugaregg. A couple near the front held hands, fists balled together, positively vibrating with excitement for Bully to take the stage. As Bully blasted off their set with “Add it On,” fans howled along as though they had been rehearsing for this moment all year. After they played a few hits off 2017’s Losing and 2015’s debut Feels Like, Bognanno cozied up to her hometown crowd, saying how great it was to be back and that her best friend and dad were in the audience. That “aww”-inducing positive energy pushed into new and old material alike, with Bognanno’s satisfyingly ragged vocals and lyrics piercing the melodies as band members grooved along onstage. The wistful “Come Down” slowed the tempo with vulnerable layers of melancholia , and breathy “oohs” on “Prism” contrasted with her incisive chant about a pain that “just keeps coming.”
Unfortunately, the pain of poorly-behaved audience members caused Bognanno to pause mid-song during “Blame” because some men were taking up too much space and smashing into a female concertgoer. “If a woman is punching you, you need to stop,” she said. But apparently, being called out once by the band you came to see wasn’t enough. After another interruption, Bognanno called for security to remove them. “I’m too old for this,” she said. “I’m sober. This isn’t a party band,” she stated shakily after dismissing the rowdy men. It appeared the thrill of returning to live shows caused some to let a little too loose.
After reassuring the crowd they were in a safe space, a flustered Bognanno resumed then called for a collective deep breath together after a rousing rendition of “Trying.” The crowd, mirroring the energy from the stage, relaxed their shoulders and got back into the rhythm. They closed out their set powerfully with their energetic hit, “Milkman.” The crowd was electric. How could they possibly top that finisher with an encore? When in Minneapolis, the answer is always Prince.
Following a quick breather offstage, Bully returned to perform a haunting rendition of “Nothing Compares 2 U.” Written by the Purple One and popularized by Sinead O’Connor, Bognanno’s voice is perfectly suited for this soft-grunge, sentimental, and sincere cover. Not to end the night on too delicate of a note, Bully’s last song of the night was another cover, this time of Mclusky’s raunchy and raucous “Lightsabre [expletive]Blues.” To go from one song to the other was like whiplash, not dissimilar from the collective feeling of the last year and a half. At least seeing Bully was a ride we all signed up for.
I left the Fine Line much as I entered, observing folks lined up around the building’s exterior. This time they gathered to smoke cigarettes and relive the night’s events, and I had a giddy sense of déjà vu as I tucked my mask into my back pocket and walked to my car, thinking about how great it is that live music is back.
Add it On
Feel the Same
Where to Start
Stuck In Your Head
Kills to Be Resistant
Hours and Hours
Nothing Compares 2 U (Prince)
Lightsabre [expletive] Blues (Mclusky)