LOS ANGELES, CA- During the fall of 2020, I was in a funk. The world was getting tired of its obnoxious new neighbor, Covid 19, and we were all negotiating lock-downs and fears in our relative solitude. There really wasn’t much to look forward to except Netflix programming and the occasional Zoom call with friends.
Then, one day, I received a package in the mail. The slim cardboard box suggested it was a vinyl record, but the question was, “What vinyl record?” I’m the king of impulse vinyl purchases of exclusives, but I couldn’t remember what this record was. When I opened it up, it was a Bully’s Sugaregg. A beautiful yellow-colored LP that was autographed by Alicia Bognanno.
As soon as I started spinning side A of the album, and the fuzzy intro of “Add It On” led into frenetic licks and fierce delivery of Alicia’s vocals, I could feel that funk start to dissipate.
After Bully’s sophomore album, Losing, two of the members of Bully decided to pursue other endeavors. That’s when lead singer and guitarist Alicia Bognonna decided to continue using Bully as the name of her solo project. Co-produced by John Congleton, Sugaregg is a hook-laden alt/grunge/punk album that really feels like a musical rebirth for Alicia. There’s an energy and edginess in Sugaraegg that feels more like Feels Like (Bully’s debut album) than Losing. It sounded, and felt like, Alicia was starting fresh… and she kinda was.
While there are plenty of loud songs on the album, the emotional intensity is palpable even in the more introspective, downtempo songs. “Come Down” in particular resonated with me when the lyrics, “Dig to find answers, I could dig so low, and I’m changing into a person, a person I don’t know”. I was there in my own funk, isolated from my friends and the world. I really felt like those lyrics were meant for me. And when she follows that line with “You’ve never steered me wrong when I’m right, learned to keep calm resolve the fight,” I kind of took that as a call to action to get myself up off my ass, quick feeling sorry for myself, and doing something. Anything.
After spinning that record, every day for about the next four weeks, I decided to get my mind right… and that started with getting physically fit. I drove down to the local high school, and hooped, by myself. For about an hour and fifteen minutes, I ran the courts and took shots. An hour and fifteen minutes equals listening to Sugaregg two times in a row. Sugaregg was literally the soundtrack to my life for a month.
There’s something in the sonic mood Sugaregg that invigorates. Maybe it’s that theme of rebirth that I referenced above. Maybe it’s the way that Alicia attacks every lyric with a confident purpose. Maybe it’s the kinetic way the guitars pluck and thrash away. Whatever it was/is, this album got me pumped enough to run around every day by my lonesome, tossing … or a least trying to toss… a ball into a hoop.
When I found out that Bully was playing in Los Angeles, I bought a ticket as soon as they were available. Yes… I paid for a ticket.
The evening started off with a comedian whose name I don’t know as she wasn’t properly introduced to those in the room at the time. It’s not often you see comedy open up for a rock act unless that comedian is somehow connected to the featured performer in some way. Was there a connection? That I don’t know.
This comedian had a confident air about her. Her comedy was bawdy from the start as she addressed topics of sexuality and body image. Then she really went “bawdy” and stripped completely nude and had several audience members draw her in the buff.
The nudity caught the room off guard, and if it’s this comedian’s modus operandi to hit 11 on the “shock factor” scale, she succeeded compeltely.
The next act to take that stage was the New York-based band Lightning Bug. Fronted by lead singer, Audrey Kang, Lightning Bug’s music wasn’t what I was necessarily expecting to open up for Bully. After listening to their most recent release, A Color of the Sky (2021), I find that theirs is a sound that had me thinking more of the music of Laurel Canyon with a shoegaze-lite/alt-rock twist than Bully’s grunge/punk aesthetic.
This was my first time hearing their music, and I thought that their performance was solid. Audrey’s airy vocals kind of softly danced on top of her bandmate’s cinematic arrangement. You’d have expected her singing to get drowned out by the immense sound that backed her, but that wasn’t the case at all. In fact, I think that kudos are in order to the person manning the soundboard to make sure that the mix was on point
Their setlist consisted of mostly songs from their newest album. They played “The Return”, “The Right Thing is Hard To Do”, “The Flash”, “Song of The Bell” and “I Lie Awake”. Of the songs that they performed, I was particularly drawn to “Song of the Bell”. I liked the way that that song grooved. Its faster tempo, with the snare hitting the offbeat, and the way harmonies crescendoed into the chorus had my heading nodding to the song.
The sonic dichotomy between Bully and Lightning Bug was quite sharp, but perhaps that was intentional. Perhaps, Alicia and company wanted to lull us into a mystic state before they shred our faces off with animated angst and vigor. If so, mission accomplished.
By the time Bully took the stage, you could feel the energy in the room turn up significantly. As soon as that warbly, extended guitar chord got strummed, my mind went back to those basketball courts. It was the opening sounds of “Add It On”, the opening track off Sugaregg. It was a Pavlovian reaction the way my body started to move when I heard those notes. By the time the drumsticks clacked prior to the song’s frenzy kicking in, I was ready to rock. The room was ready to rock.
For the next 18 songs, they ripped through a set that featured most of the songs off Sugaregg and their most popular songs off the prior albums (i.e. “Trying”, “Feel The Same”, “Milkman”, and “I Remember”). Earlier during the tour, Alicia sent out a message about being respectful in the audience. Because this was an all-ages crowd, there were plenty of young girls in the audience, and Alicia obviously wanted to ensure that their evening wasn’t ruined by a drunken, bad actor (i.e. dude) getting more physical than was necessary when the moshing started. The crowd, for the most part, respected the entreaty. Save but the one dude who kept nudging his elbow into my back during the more punk-infused songs (I gave him a warning… lol), all I noticed were people enjoying their space, swaying when the music was mellower, and wildly rocking out when the music picked up. Alicia must have noticed this as during one of the songs early in the set, she acknowledged the crowd with a “You guys are so much fun!”
Alicia can handle her ax with the best of them, but whenever she performs without her guitar, the energy and mood of the performance gets even more elevated. She puts her whole body into her singing, and when she’s on her knees wailing into the mic, or leaning into the crowd singing into your face, you get those ever-elusive tingles down your spine that makes every penny of that price of admission worth it.
I’d been hitting up as many shows as I could since lockdowns and mandates lessened, but this show meant a lot to me. Alicia’s music, which came when I wasn’t necessarily expecting it, got me through a pretty shitty, and lonely, time in my life. To see Alicia and her bandmates bring that music- the soundtrack to at least one month of my life- to life was indescribably fulfilling… and as weird as it may sound, it felt like I had come full circle with Covid. Bully helped me get through it, and here I was celebrating life “post-Covid”. A baptism by music, if you will. A rebirth.