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Lucy Dacus Remembers Everything

The singer-songwriter took First Ave on a long trip through her teen years, all while lying on a couch.

No, she didn't ride this onstage. Yes, she did wear that sweater.
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“Triple Dog Dare” is the last track on Lucy Dacus’s Home Video for good reason: It swells and crests like a finale, complete with guitar crescendo, as lyrics wend their way from unspoken desire to escapist fantasy. After the mother of a childhood friend intuits a queer crush in the making and splits the girls up, Dacus dreams they run away from home together as lovers, their disappearance noted briefly on milk cartons until they’re forgotten forever. The recording takes nearly eight minutes to get where it’s going, and though I didn’t time it, last night at First Avenue “Triple Dog Dare” must have been roughly as long. It’s a heavy fuckin’ way to start a show.

Still, within the next 90 minutes last night Dacus would beg another friend not to kill herself and pledge to murder yet another friend’s estranged dad “if you let me.” So yeah, she was just warming up.

Dacus is 26, a retrospective age. Home Video, her latest album (and her setlist’s primary source) is a scrapbook of early infatuation that vibrates along the same frequency as the selectively permeable teen membrane of friendship and desire, tracing pre-sexual fumblings that sometimes cross the “pre” line and sometimes aren’t even aware where that line is. As one YouTube user put it with just the right corny excess and lack of capitalization, “listening to her feels like unlocking a memory i never had.”

The songs hum with the ecstatic awkwardness of physical proximity, the inability to tell whether you’re exercising superhuman restraint to keep from making a fool of yourself or frozen with fear in ways you’ll regret forever. In the emotional aftermath of “Hot & Heavy,” Dacus watches a former makeout partner blossom into a new life apart from her. The Bible camp recollections of “VBS” demonstrate how impossible it is to distinguish spirituality from sexuality from the overwhelming biochemical rush of teendom. And “Cartwheel” responds with multilayered anger to a friend’s news that she’s had sex for the first time. “You can’t feel it for the first time, a second time,” is kind of an emblematic lyric for Dacus, even as her songwriting uncovers just how many its there are to feel.

The show was preceded by an extended screening of Dacus’s childhood home videos, a nod of course to her album title as well as a trick you see regularly at arena pop shows. It’s how Taylor Swift or Selena Gomez insist they too were once little girls with dreams just like you. This was more of a subdued overture, a reminder that the night would fix its sights backward. But though Home Video has been called “nostalgic,” that’s too narrow a word unless now we’re just using it to mean all art built from memories, especially since Dacus’s perspective on her past is so analytic. (She describes her songwriting process “as if something in my brain has finally convinced my body to let it come out.”) Throughout the night, her soft focus voice contrasted with the specificity of her lyrics to allow her to view the past from an adult perspective without sacrificing the emotional immediacy of adolescence.

Oh, and she did all this flat on her back. “It’s not a bit,” Dacus explained from the love seat from which she sang. She’s been suffering from herniated discs, and rather than derail a tour that COVID already delayed, she’s adjusted and begun performing prone. And why not? Half the bands I saw live during the Clinton Administration may as well have been tucked in bed for all the stage presence they displayed. Dacus referenced how Paul Westerberg did the same during the Replacements’ 2014 Coachella shows: “Consider it a homage.”

Dacus did sit up between songs to talk to us, a bit of unnecessary politeness that also allowed her to sip from a thermos, and her mellow chatter belied her songs intensity. After saying she’d hoped we’d gotten a boost of serotonin from a singalong, she added “We all need it, especially before this song.” (“That sounded like a groan from a sitcom,” she said of the audience’s response.) “This song” was the previously alluded to “Thumbs,” in which she accompanies a friend to meet her long-gone father and thinks bloody thoughts.

If looking back showed Dacus how blurred and complex her relationships with girls had been, her male mates come off more as simple mistakes. She learns the meaning of “cerebral” years after a boy who thought he was “Brando” thought that was a compliment, then sings back at his memory: “Would it have killed you to call me pretty instead?” “Partner in Crime” retroactively convicts the adult who dated her when she was in high school with disgust, and even the silly boy she locks braces with in “Going Going Gone” is imagined to age into a midlife dumbass.

Dacus’s taste in covers showed a respect for the classics: a fine acoustic take on Carole King’s “Home Again” and a quick and punchy “La Vie en Rose,” teased as a belated V-Day sop for “the lovebirds” from a writer who doesn’t do happy endings much herself. And though fans adore being enveloped in her wash of sound, Dacus does quick and punchy great, her skill represented last night by her first single, “I Don’t Want to Be Funny Anymore,” about tiring of your own schtick, and her latest, “Kissing Lessons,” about making out with girls while practicing for boys. The latter, she explained was the first song recorded for Home Video, but didn’t fit the album’s mood. (“It was just too cute.”)

Dacus’s set closed, inevitably, with “Night Shift,” and if she keeps at this for another 20 years that song might well still be closing her set. The purgative shout-along chorus—“You got a 9 to 5, so I’ll take the night shift/And I’ll never see you again if I can help it”—is a lightning strike of songwriting, and hints as well at what makes Dacus such a good hang. Even when she’s heartbroken and hyperbolic she’s still pragmatic in her way.

Setlist

Triple Dog Dare
First Time
Addictions
Hot & Heavy
Christine
VBS
Cartwheel
La Vie en Rose
Yours & Mine
Partner in Crime
Home Again
Going Going Gone
Thumbs
Brando
I Don’t Wanna Be Funny Anymore
Kissing Lessons
Night Shift