LIVE RECAP: Bully Impresses at Milwaukee’s Cactus Club – 5/28/15

Okay Milwaukee, I get it, you like to drink at concerts. Hey, I’ll admit that I enjoy a libation or two while I watch live music, but as a whole, Milwaukee takes it to another level. I can’t remember the last show I attended in this city that didn’t have someone a little too inebriated in attendance, and only the best performers can shrug it off and roll with it.

Enter Bully, the Nashville post-punk/grunge quartet, led by front woman Alicia Bognanno, who made a stop through Milwaukee’s Cactus Club on May 28 on the band’s massive United States tour, previewing tracks off the band’s forthcoming debut full length, Feels Like.

Bognanno handled a few random drunk callouts from members of the crowd with the utmost of ease and charisma, almost feeding off of it at times. One member of the crowd even seemed to be attempting to do their best impression of Soy Bomb… except for that whole silent part.

If you listen to Bully’s music, this charismatic charm may come as a surprise; Bognanno’s lyrics, hell even her voice, are so gritty and aggressively visceral, it can almost pain you to listen to them. This is what the most effective grunge and punk music does, and the comparisons to a young Courtney Love have flooded from blogs since the singer has stepped up to the mic, and for good reason. Seeing her live only drives this home even harder.

This comparison is meant in the best way: Bully’s songs are short and to the point, and that point is typically “don’t fuck with me”… at least at face value.

Bognanno’s voice is a punch in the face. Her raspy, throat-ripping growl effectively delivers the angsty nature of Bully’s music, and the swift guitars, 90’s grunge bass, and stinging drums were all equally affecting. But her lyrics are a little more delicate and poetic on the break-up anthem “I Remember”, Bognanno reminisces about the pain in recalling what an ex-lover’s sheets smell, meeting their parents, the boxes of letters and even the naked photos .

Highlights of the set included two of the tracks we’ve heard from Feels Like, “I Remember” and “Trying” as well as standout tracks “Milkman”, “Brainfreeze”, and “Sharktooth”. The band took the stage earlier than expected, hardly soundchecking their instruments, and without any sort of setlist on stage. Granted, Bully’s repertoire of songs is limited (with only the upcoming full length and an EP recorded), but the setlist packed more excellence into a short amount of time than most musicians can do within a set double the length.

The 30ish-minute long set was a direct representation of Bully’s music: short and abrasive in the most wonderfully pleasing manner. Even Bognanno cracked a smile as she gazed out in to the crowd from time to time, proving that there might be a little more sweet behind the sour than she lets on. If her music is any representation, however, I would still recommend against crossing her.

Bully’s full length album, Feels Like is available for pre-order here, and the band’s remaining tour dates can be found at the band’s Facebook. The tour includes dates opening for Best Coast as well as a Pitchfork Music Festival appearance. Typically, when an artist comes through town before they’re scheduled at PMF, I’ll try to catch the show to free up any sort of scheduling conflict during the fest. After last night’s show, I’m not missing Bully in Chicago.