The Social; Orlando, FL • January 29, 2016
by Jen Cray
When the members of Bully walked out onto the stage, they looked bored — a couple of them didn’t even attempt to stifle yawns. It had barely been 10 minutes since the opening band wrapped up their set — not that I like a long wait for the headliners, but a little time to build up anticipation (and, ya know, hit the bar) is not a bad thing. Instead, like punctual students afraid of the late bell, these Nashville kids dove into their opening song without announcement, or acknowledgement of the crowd. I don’t know whether to love them for this nonchalance, or be offended. For a band whose sound pulls heavily from the 90’s grunge I grew up on, apathy (whether real, or put on) should be expected as part of the package, encouraged even. Still, a little awareness of the room full of fans who gave you their Friday night isn’t an uncool thing, either.
Just ask Palehound. Ellen Kempner, the twentysomething guitar wunderkind, not only appears genuinely moved by the amount of love coming her way, but even confesses childhood Disney fantasies like we’re all gathered up around a bowl of popcorn at a slumber party. She writes songs that come from the well that Sonic Youth and The Breeders drank from, but delivers them with less chaos and more sentimentality. Fun fact: Kempner and Speedy Ortiz’s Sadie Dupuis are roomies — so just imagine the kind of dueling guitar, smartly worded jams these two ladies could whip out should they decide to pair up!
Near the end of their set, Kempner invited us all to head over to the merch booth to grab a free sticker — one that inexplicably depicts a demon feeding buckets of puppies to a bunch of baby demons. Even she didn’t have an explanation as to the why of the image other than to say, “My boss made them. They’re free, please take one.” This little tidbit of concert detail serves no purpose in my overall review of the night, I just found it’s randomness worth noting. And, yes, I did grab a sticker! How could I not?!
If Palehound is depicted as a dead puppy toting demon, then Bully would be that crazy red and black demon from the first Insidious movie and it would be feeding kittens to children. Such is the vast difference in angst and aggression between the headliner and their opener. [disclaimer: Neither I, nor INK 19, condone the feeding of any cute baby creatures to children or demons]
Bully frontwoman Alicia Bognanno spent her college internship working at Steve Albini’s studio, and that exposure — to the man who helped shape the sound of everyone from Nirvana and the Pixies to PJ Harvey — seeped into her songwriting. From her Juliana Hatfield-esque singing voice to the throaty screams that shape some of her best moments, Bully’s blonde haired bomb feels like an export from the 120 Minutes era — complete with a bold, political statement emblazoned across her t-shirt (Sea World Kills).
Onstage, she doesn’t talk much, or smile much, but she shreds and she screams and not even a muddled sound mix that muffled her vocals could tarnish the power of those songs off of last year’s Feels Like. Behind her, on drums, was Tyler Coburn — who last I saw breaking his neck pounding out the beat for Yautja. The thrash/grindcore metal outfit has a sound galaxies away from Bully, but the powerhouse drummer gave those grunge pop songs some added weight.
This was the band’s Orlando debut and even though they didn’t exactly greet the city with open arms and a warm hug, their ambivalence and we-just-came-to-play attitude was an intriguing introduction all it’s own.