Just time for a quick rundown.
Chicago's Melkbelly started the night honoring both of '90s rock's dominant forces: distorted, messy grunge, and tricky, tumbling, stuttering, experimental indie rock. Meshing the two is tricky business, and the band's pounding 45-minute, ten-song set culled (mostly) from the band's 2017 album Nothing Valley offered mixed results. To dance about architecture a bit, both guitars provided jagged edges, the small drum kit was beat mercilessly by flailing arms, and the bass thundered below, holding songs together (or not). The yelped and yawped vocals of Miranda Winters cut through it all (especially once I moved to the back of the room for a better listen). Traditional pop hooks were eschewed, instead the band established repetitive grooves to build earworms of a different sort. Set highlight (and closer) "Middle Of" took this tendency to an extreme as the band locked into a pattern that it refused to move past for a minute or more. While the large audience pressed the stage attentively, it provided little energy back to the band, causing Winter's limited banter to fall lifelessly. The young audience was not there for Melkbelly, but I was more than intrigued.
Bully and I have a complicated relationship. That is to say, the band has no idea who I am, and I'm never really sure how much I like the band. Not that the two are related, but I hoped that seeing Bully live might remove the ambiguity on both fronts. First off, to say the Nashville quartet recalls the alternative rock '90s is an understatement; thankfully, the band carries all the hooks and energy of that scene's heavyweights. Whether imbued with sunny surf melodies or punk fury, the band's songs never stray far from pop's established structures, with catchy opener "Feel the Same" playing as straightforward and powerful as anything that decade had to offer. The raspy screams of Alicia Bognanno dominate the story, but it's her sawn guitar work that frees guitarist Clayton Parker to add the leads and occasional solos that color the band's songs. During tuning breaks, it was these two that addressed the very young, very female, and very excited audience that packed the front of the stage, and even pogoed in a small pit only a few rows back. After a quick thirteen-song set that concluded with Bognanno folded over backwards on the stage floor, the band left the stage while instruments rang freely, and left the audience to whoop and clap for an encore that was a foregone conclusion. When the band returned for two songs, it ripped through "Trying" before Bognanno set down her guitar to scream and jump about the stage during the punk-powered closer "I Remember" (both from 2015's Feels Like, Columbia Records).
After the set I introduced myself to the band, noting a mutual friend, hopefully clarifying one of the two mysteries. As for the other — well, a solid live show, quality songs, and just enough fury to stave off the glossy production is enough to get me to declare my allegiance. All hail Bully.