Lord Huron with Bully
By: Sean Moore/ Photos By: Kenneth Coles
An opening band can sometimes be faced with a difficult task before they even start their set, often the crowd is still trickling in through the gates, talking with each other, and/or finding their spots for the headliner and passing the time until they come out. When Bully walked out on stage at Thompson’s Point, led by frontwoman Alicia Bognanno, they looked serious and all business. They knew their task over the next 30 minutes included gaining some new fans in the first Portland show. Luckily, many of Bully’s songs don’t breach over the 3- minute mark, so they were able to fit about 10-12 songs in their set, which offered the crowd a solid representation of the band’s music, all from the two albums they’ve released since 2015, Feels Like and Losing. The minute they started playing “Brainfreeze,” with this crunchy/catchy chords and Alicia’s scratchy vocals, the crowd was nodding their heads and paying attention, as they were hooked right into the ‘90s rock sound that may have been familiar to the older folks in the crowd. Along with that song, their set included “I Remember,” the fast-paced, ‘90s alternative rock reminiscent of female-fronted bands like Hole, Veruca Salt, L7,and Bikini Kill. Being on the seminal, indie label Sub Pop has helped the band garner some much deserved praise and credibility as a rock band coming out of Nashville, TN. Their sound and influences may also have something to do with the fact that Alicia interned at Steve Albini’s Electrical Audio studio while she was studying audio engineering. Albini is, of course, well known and respected in the music industry as the famed music producer who has worked with bands like Nirvana, The Pixies, The Breeders, etc. Alicia is as hardworking and smart as she is an incredible songwriter, acting as the engineer for their records.
Alicia’s vocal style straddles the line between pretty and powerful, with emotionally resonant lyrics that focus on coming-of-age and loss of innocence with a raw honesty and introspection that makes the listener feel connected to her songs. The crowd couldn’t help but cheer when Alicia screamed out her confessional lyrics, especially during songs like “Spiral” and the radio-single-ready “Trying,” as well as Losing tracks “Feel the Same” and “Kills to be Resistant.” I loved hearing “Sharktooth” in the middle of their set, as well as “Milkman.” Before ending their set, Alicia said to the crowd, “Thanks for putting up with us,” but it was less about “putting up with” and more about appreciating. Their set ended with a perhaps unknown cover of the band Mclusky’s “Lightsabre Cocksucking Blues,” during which Alicia grabbed the microphone from its stand and howled out the punk tune with such graceful punk attitude and ferocity that left the crowd in awe. When this show was announced, the two bands seemed like an unlikely pairing, but after the experience, I understood that Bully embraced the idea of being the opening act for indie folk band Lord Huron and looked to expand their fanbase.
When Lord Huron took the stage the crowd was ready, having a proper foundation laid sufficiently by Bully. Led by velvet-throated crooner Ben Scheidner, they began their set with “Love Like Ghosts” and “Meet Me in the Woods,” both from their second album Strange Trails, which came out in 2015. They’ve been touring in support of their latest album, 2018’s Vide Noir, for the better part of two years now. Having played a sold out show in Portland almost exactly a year ago, the band was up to the task of changing their set around enough to bring back a larger crowd at the outdoor venue this year. Their set focused heavily on the aforementioned albums, with an incredibly mesmerizing and beautiful light show and video screens that looked like stained-glass windows at times, while a replica of the neon green emerald on Vide Noir’s album cover stayed lit up high on the backdrop through the whole set. The crowd was very familiar and willing to sing along and dance the whole night. People of all ages jumped, spun and twisted around each other in pure delight as the band played the perfect soundtrack to their evening.
Lord Huron’s bittersweet indie folks songs gave the audience ample opportunity to frolic on the grounds at Thompson’s Point. Schneider even made a point after their fifth song to tell the crowd he wasn’t going to talk much tonight, as they were playing with a curfew (10 o’clock), so they were just going to “pack in as many songs as they could.” They played a grand total of 25 songs with quite a mix of emotional, slow-burners as well as some foot-stomping anthems the likes of “Ancient Names” and “Hurricane (Johnnie’s Theme),” which were crowd-pleasers, for sure. Schneider wore his signature hat, which fell off quite a few times throughout their set as even he was rocking out during many of the louder moments of their anthemic performance that at times were reminiscent of another rather expansive-sounding band- My Morning Jacket. During these blistering guitar riffs, Schneider whipped his hat off and let loose his enviously coiffed hair as he swung his body around with the music.
With the beautiful background of the sunset to the left of the stage, it made the more melancholic moments of the night seem sweet, especially for songs like “The Yawning Grave,” “When the Night is Over” and “Ends of the Earth” (which perhaps expectantly has appeared on several soundtracks). Lord Huron’s slow-burner tunes, in fact, seem almost intentionally written for those bittersweet moments on screens both small and large. They saved three of the most beautiful songs for their encore, including “Ends of the Earth.” The band played a surprise cover of Neil Young’s “Harvest Moon,” which left everyone speechless. The night ended ironically with “The Night We Met” which frontman Schneider admitted to the crowd is “their most romantic song, so if you’re going to make-out, now’s the time, but I won’t tell you how to live your life.” Many in the crowd who came with loved ones, wrapped their arms around each other and welcomed his invitation to kiss as the night came to a close with a song that perhaps you wouldn’t hear out of place these days at a high school prom.