In a move that made it immediately clear what a gift the night was going to be, Virginia-based indie rocker Lucy Dacus kicked off her 12-song set at August Hall on Oct. 25 with a track that has yet to be released. Although the reverent crowd members weren’t able to sing along, they more than made up for it in the hour or so that followed — Dacus’ lyrics and sound spurred both the heart and feet into motion.
The minimalist aesthetic coordinated onstage offered zero distractions from this spurring. Behind Dacus was a simple LED silhouette of the art from her sophomore album Historian, and the color scheme of her outfit and guitar also noticeably matched that of the album: red, white and black.
Not surprisingly, the bulk of Dacus’ set was pulled from either Historian or her newer songs, with only two tracks played from her debut album No Burden. For seasoned Dacus fans, this might have come as something of a surprise. Prior to the start of the concert, conversation swirled between fans speculating which songs she’d play. Few of these speculations were correct.
But it makes sense that Dacus elected to mostly turn away from No Burden that night. Despite the title of her sophomore album, Dacus is a musical visionary who looks forward rather than backward. And in keeping with the title of her sophomore album, she still nodded at No Burden with two gems: “Direct Address” and “I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore,” the latter being the song that launched Dacus into indie stardom back in 2015.
Dacus’ musical vision is currently focused on a project called 2019, an EP released in celebration of different holidays throughout the year. One song from this collection, “My Mother & I” — released for Mother’s Day — was the surprising halfway point of the set, with Dacus dedicating it to her mother before noting that she and her band were about to “do something a little bit different.” She then picked up a synthesizer to accompany delicate classical guitar-like strumming that, compared to the rest of her discography, is unique.
This was the first moment that brought the audience to hushed awe. The next came when, following a brief break before the encore, Dacus once again emerged onstage to play two more songs. Before she started into the first one, an unreleased song called “Thumbs,” she made a point of asking the audience not to film. Alone onstage with only her guitar, Dacus’ haunting solo brought about frequent laughs and gasps with the bold, angry picture the lyrics paint, despite how gentle and dreamy the song is sonically.
What followed was the only underwhelming moment of an otherwise perfect show. For the last song, Dacus had opener Liza Anne, an accomplished indie musician in her own right, join her. This promised to be an iconic crossover moment, and it mostly was, but what they performed was Dacus’ recently released rendition of “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins — an average cover at best, offering nothing in terms of ingenuity and only Dacus’ rich voice as a redeeming factor. Given how small the set was, it was a bit disappointing for the night to end on that note.
Even so, the night was no less of a rager. As a performer, Dacus isn’t concerned so much with theatrics as she is with simply playing the songs. She occasionally danced around, but for the most part, she let the music stand on its own. The eclectic nature of Dacus’ discography, from the hard rock influences of “Timefighter” to the country influences of “Forever Half Mast,” was a genuinely breathtaking experience to witness live.
Of course, it wouldn’t be right to talk about a Dacus show without mentioning “Night Shift,” a song with a refrain that had everybody in the venue screaming at the top of their lungs, one part of which goes, “And I’ll never see you again if I can help it.”
If Dacus’ fans can help it, though, they’ll definitely see her again.
Highlights: “Direct Address,” “Timefighter,” “Thumbs”