Led by the fiery Alicia Bognanno, Nashville's Bully brought their hyperactive rock show to Lee's Palace in Toronto on Thursday night (November 9) in support of their sophomore album, Losing. Taking cues from '90s grunge and alt-rock, the four-piece delivered an energetic set full of squealing, crunchy guitars and Bognanno's merciless vocals.
Bognanno and her band opened with "Either Way" from Losing, going all out and establishing a frenzied tone right away. By the fifth song — their breakout single "Trying," from their impressive debut Feels Like — Bognanno's bleached, tangled hair had undone itself from her unkempt ponytail, particularly in the climactic chorus when she yelled, convincingly, "I'm trying to hide from my mind, I'm trying!"
Bully's strongest and most defining quality is Bognanno's raspy singing voice, constantly fluctuating between a sweetly polished coo and a throaty scream. On the impetuous "Trash," Bognanno perfectly balanced melody and ferocity by softly singing, "If you didn't want to listen then I wouldn't make you," and then sharply veering into more aggressive territory with her agitated howl ("Feels like trash!"). Bognanno's no-bullshit, angsty lyrics are often about transcending past relationships and overcoming self-doubt during life's messy experiences. Her candid but simple lyrical approach allows Bully songs to be relatable, as Bognanno is free to scream about her thoughts without any unnecessary euphemisms or long-winded metaphors.
The group's quiet-to-loud tendency intensifies in concert, where the guitars are turned way up to match Bognanno's high-power, gritty vocal performance. On "Focused," bassist Reece Lazarus kept the rage bubbling for the first half of the song before the sugar rush of the double guitar force from Clayton Parker and Bognanno kicked in along with Bognanno's seething wail. Later, the guitars on the ennui-ridden "Feel the Same" restlessly transformed the jittery anxiety of the verses into the distressed outburst of the song's heady peaks.
The show ran at a brisk pace, with the four-piece blowing through the majority of their material — which largely consists of two-and-a-half minute tracks — in an hour-long set without much down time between songs. Bully stick to straightforward, carefree power-pop and don't sway too much from their model. Because of this, some of Bully's newer material seemed to be a little formulaic, like revamped and lesser versions of the real highlights of the show, such as Feels Like tracks "Six" and "Milkman," where the entire band went full-throttle, going into full body spasms and giving the restless, brawling guitar licks their all.
Bully concluded their show on an even messier note with Feels Like's "I Remember," complete with Parker falling into the crowd during the song's final screech and the rest of the band dumping their instruments on the spot before walking off. The band have found a reckless comfort zone early in their career, and their live show enhances their sound to a new, fearless level.