As the tragic march of “Drunk Walk Home” pounded its way toward the coda, 25-year-old mid-fi indie musician Mitski let go of her candy-colored Danelectro bass and howled herself hoarse for a solid minute. In the stunned silence following her vocal abandon, she said quietly, “This is what I want to do with my life, and now I am here doing it at Bowery Ballroom.”
What Mitski, Krill, and Speedy Ortiz have in common, besides having commanded the same stage last night, transcends the fact that they all play soul-baring rock that thrives on guitar lines as expressive as the lyrics they support, or their commitment to a DIY ethos, or even their relationship with Brooklyn label Exploding in Sound. What they share above all is the absolute desire to make music, and to make it inside a community of like-minded peers — which they have found in each other. Of course, most bands love making music; that’s why they are in bands. But for these folks, playing music is vocational, a calling. Mitski said this directly. Sadie Dupuis, frontwoman of Speedy Ortiz, paused halfway through their blistering set to remark how lucky they were to “get to do this.” Even while Krill griped about the relentless discomfort of touring life this past December to Vice, they added that’s all they’ve ever wanted: to make music and get better at it.
After Krill’s confidently anxious and proggy set, and once Mitski melted us with her intimately lonely songs, Speedy Ortiz stormed the stage for the third show of a five-month bout of near-constant gigging in support of their sophomore LP, Foil Deer, which dropped this past Tuesday. Later in the tour they will swap Mitski and Krill with more extended family from Exploding in Sound (Palehound, Two Inch Astronaut) as well as the eccentric solo artist Alex G. Dupuis clearly meant it when she told the Voice earlier this week that she never wants to get to the point where they can’t gig with their friends.
And friendship came up a lot, whether via democratic onstage gestures or Dupuis rambling about My Little Ponies and outright saying, “Friendship is magic.” After powering through the new singles, the delightfully wistful “The Graduates” and the punchy anthem “Raising the Skate,” she, bassist Darl Ferm, and newest member/guitarist Devin McKnight formed a lateral wall around Michael Falcone’s uncharacteristically spare drumming that seemed more an act of camaraderie than an underlining of “look how much of a guitar band we are!” as they began “Dot X.”
While the set focused on Foil Deer tracks, Speedy threw in some Major Arcana favorites, like the tongue-in-cheek “Plough” and the thicket of distortion of “Tiger Tank,” its scattered guitar phrases punctuating those “toxic parts of speech” the poetry MFA-holder spewed. They satisfied the diehards’ hunger for even older material, too, running through the prickly “Indoor Soccer” from 2012’s Sports EP and, as part of the encore (which they did not leave the stage and return for, despite tradition), pummeling the brash start-and-stop guitar riffage of “Taylor Swift,” from their first release.
It was a night of frenetic, fugal arrangements, intricately discordant noodling, and brassy vocal stylings. Speedy Ortiz call themselves “illegally loud” for a reason. But for everyone involved, it also seemed like a night for displaying not just artistic but also personal growth. In recent interviews Dupuis has described the decision to drink less, focus on fitness (“I’m gonna carry everybody’s amps!” she exclaimed to Pitchfork this week), and concentrate on big-picture issues like rape culture and marginalization in her lyrics (as opposed to shitty-ex-boyfriend-driven material). Last night, in solidarity with Mitski’s misty-eyed speech about how essential and wonderful mothers are, Dupuis divulged that her father died a few months ago, and that she is playing for him. Jonah Furman of Krill couldn’t stop stuttering his profound gratitude at the occasion, either.
Such outpouring of expression and solidarity foregrounds these bands’ devotion to music and the people who constitute their scene. As much as Dupuis has described feeling like the eponymous “foil deer” when performing — a skittish, self-retreating person dressed up in glitter and trying to be present — she looked so at home onstage with her talented bandmates and in the company of so many other gifted friends. It’s because she was.