Boygenius host unofficial pride love fest at the Bud

They might sing “Sad-Girl Music” but concert a joyful experience

Who: Boygenius, Broken Social Scene, Claud
Where: Budweiser Stage
When: Wed., June 21
Vibe: Unofficial Pride kickoff
Rating: NNNNN
Highlight: Cool About It performed in front of a crowd-made rainbow

Boygenius might be the poster child for “Sad-Girl Music,” but their recent Toronto concert is nothing but joyful and full of love.

It’s the first official day of summer when Boygenius take over Budweiser stage, turning the lakefront into an unofficial pride event. Seemingly, every young queer person in the Greater Toronto Area is here — in massive lines coming from every direction. Something important to note: everyone looks very, very cool.

There are mullets, tote bags, long flowing skirts and inked-up arms as far as the eye can see. At first, I’m intimidated, but that quickly fades away. My friend and I get in line and, almost immediately, a girl turns around to compliment my outfit. Everyone here is incredibly friendly and incredibly excited. This isn’t just a show — it’s the social event of the season. We make our way to the lawn at the back of the stadium and it feels like a big reunion. Everyone is bubbly and sparkling, showing off their vintage/artsy/queer style and complimenting others’ clever clothing references to Boygenius: pink carnations pinned to lapels in reference to their song I’m in Love homemade Matching T-shirts with “Always an angel/ Never a god” emblazoned on the front; and many other motifs that, as a casual fan of the band, I pick up on but can’t make sense of.

Claud are the first opener up, playing a short but sweet set of solid indie pop, including their best-known tracks like I Wish You Were Gay and Soft Spot, as well as a cover of Taylor Swift’s Betty. For the first of three opener, Claud seem to have many dedicated fans in the audience, which is always heartening to see. After Claud leave the stage, I’m approached by someone holding a Ziploc filled with red slips of paper.

“Do you want to participate in a fan project?” they ask. I’m instructed to hold the red paper over my flashlight later during the show, a little twist on the age-old lighter-waving tradition. Other colours are distributed across the amphitheatre.

The sun is starting to set as Broken Social Scene take the stage. While I spot a few band Tees and messenger bag-wearing hipsters scattered through the audience, who are clearly here to see the iconic Toronto band, I may be one under-30 here who knows their stuff. That’s fine by me. I can sing along loudly enough for multiple people, and I do, embarrassing my friend beside me. I challenge any Broken Social Scene fan not to sing along to Cause=Time or bop along to the horns on Shoreline — it can’t be done. It shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone who knows them that Broken Social Scene play a stellar set. People my age may not be as familiar with their music, but I can confidently say BSS leave with many new young listeners. I try my best to not cry (and just narrowly succeed) when they play Anthems for a Seventeen-Year-Old Girl as their last song.

The sun is almost down as my friend and I make our way from the lawn to the pit. Boygenius are running late to take the stage. I hear a rumour that this is because Lucy Dacus got concussed at the previous show. This is later confirmed by her, wearing large sunglasses and seated on stage. But concussion or not, the set is absolutely killer.

Phoebe Bridgers, Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker take the stage accompanied by Thin Lizzy’s The Boys Are Back in Town on the speakers. The screams of the crowd are deafening and, at that moment, I realize that I’ve left my earplugs at home. Ah, well. A good show is worth a bit of potential hearing damage.

Boygenius start the show with the hammering chords of $20, one of my personal favourites. I’m sure many people’s voices are sore the next day from screaming along to Bridger’s infamous part in that song. All three members of the band talk about their affection for Toronto, and the influence Broken Social Scene has had on them. This is a point of pride for me as both a Torontonian and a long-time Broken Social Scene fan.

In Emily I’m Sorry, the audience loudly cheers the lyrics, “Take me back to Montreal.” I would not be surprised if many people in the audience were willing to make a six-hour trek for this show — Boygenius fans are a dedicated bunch. We get to hear the beginning of Cool About It twice — the band breaks off to stare at the audience after the first try. We’re all putting our coloured slips of paper to use. 16,000 people now hold “coloured flashlights” as the paper we were handed illuminates our phones, creating a light-up rainbow across the whole audience. It’s breathtaking to look at and heartwarming to see the performers’ reactions. They seem at a loss for words at first, then take a moment to hug each other and look out at the crowd. It’s fitting that Baker plays banjo on this song — written on the front of the instrument are the words “Queer Joy.” There are definitely very few dry eyes in the crowd.

I, again, have to fight crying when they play the heartbreakingly beautiful Me & My Dog. The set ends on what might be one of my favourite concert moments of my life so far: an electric and cathartic performance of Not Strong Enough. I’m not usually a jumper or screamer at shows. I have terrible balance and back problems and need to preserve my voice for my own music. But I can’t help but get caught up in the moment. I’m screaming the lyrics, “Always an angel / never a god” over and over with thousands of other voices, and it feels indescribable and life-changing.

Bridger, Baker and Dacus come out for a slightly more subdued three-song encore. Their finale, Salt in the Wound, ends with the three of them falling over each other in one giant embrace. It is a culmination of the love that they all clearly have for each other. They are all great musicians in their own right, but when they work together, it truly is something special. Even if the subject matter of their songs can be heavy, getting to see the three of them work together can’t be anything but an utter delight.

— Brighid Fry is a Toronto journalist and lead singer and songwriter in the band Housewife.

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