Lucy Dacus makes running away feel more like moving home. Her latest release ‘Historians’ (2018) is one of those rare gems that feels immensely human, even on the first listen. Tales of time passing hum irrefutably with grief and yet, on every track, there is a sanctuary to be found. It was a privilege to see the 22-year-old play at The Louisiana. Support came from Bristol’s own Jamie Cruickshank. His sincere voice surfed over tumbling banjo licks and provided the perfect backdrop for Dacus, who joined him on stage for a surprise rendition of ‘Bobby’ by (Sandy) Alex G.
Dacus begins with ‘Addictions’, a chiding tale of romantic dependency. The studio can be a deceiving pitfall for the voice; what sounds so great on record often falls short live. Dacus is an overwhelmingly strong exception. From the outset, her vocals drip with authenticity, filling up gaps in the tracks left by a lack of brass and strings on stage. She sheds her identity on ‘Nonbeliever’, which follows ‘The Shell’, an emotive insight into the life of a creative: “If the body and the life were two things that we could divide/ I'd deliver up my shell to be filled with somebody else”. A few heavier sections are initially quite underwhelming; perhaps a sacrifice of the cost of touring rather than one of composition. Dacus’ vocals, however, are not propped up by the band. Instead they dip playfully in and out, intertwined with the melancholic alt-rock arrangements that ebb and swell through the space. The four-piece shouldn’t be afraid to really sink their teeth into that distortion together. They’ve definitely got the talent for it.
For such an achingly personal lyricist, it’s a surprise to see a bright confidence radiate through her stage presence. If there’s any way to win over an audience in England, it’s by immediately shitting on modern America: “They’re just the worst!”. She even wears a Breakfast Records t-shirt, a shout-out to the local scene. The band rip through ‘Timefighter’: a definitive highlight of the set. A blues-thump boils with attitude in the face of death: “And I fight time/It won in a landslide/I'm just as good as anybody/I'm just as bad as anybody”. The climax feels like a great lake. Dacus ripples across the surface, the sheer depth of sound blowing my initial thoughts right out of the water. ‘Pillar of Truth’ follows, a beautiful crescendo about her grandma: “I am weak looking at you/A pillar of truth/Turning to dust”, culminating in a vocal crack that cuts straight to the core.
The ending of the set showcases the maturity underpinning both of her albums. ‘Map on the Wall’ (2016) is blue, sincere and hopeful all at once: “But I feel fine and I made up my mind/To live happily, feeling beautiful beneath the trees/Above a ground that’s solid at the core/Oh please, don’t make fun of me”. ‘Strange Torpedo’ and ‘I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore’ get everyone in the room dancing, before album topper ‘Nightshift’ (The first time I tasted somebody else’s spit, I had a coughing fit) scathes with a paradoxical warmth. After a mock-encore, Dacus navigates album finale ‘Historians’ with a grace akin to Angel Olsen.
As she steps off-stage, into the crowd and out of the room, we are left to ponder the mournful stories behind her songs. Whatever Dacus feels about change, I hope she found a temporary refuge here in Bristol.
Check out more of Lucy Dacus at lucydacus.com