Concert review: Lucy Dacus gets up close and personal at the Newport

Intimate songs from the singer and songwriter's recent album, 'Home Video,' translate well on the Newport stage

Joel Oliphint
Columbus Alive
Lucy Dacus performs at the Newport Music Hall on Oct. 12, 2021.

Before Lucy Dacus took the stage at the Newport Music Hall on Tuesday, snippets of old home movies looped on a screen. It didn’t take more than a few seconds to realize the clips featured Dacus herself.

It’s a personal, intimate experience watching someone’s home movies. The footage is usually shot by family, for family, to preserve memories and document milestones. It’s not staged or posed like social media posts. We see the color of Dacus’ old couch, her dad’s big glasses, the food smeared on her face in a high chair. 

Dacus took the same approach on her recent album, the aptly named Home Video, which she wrote after reading through stacks of old journals and typing them up. There’s a level of detail in the songs Dacus only hinted at on 2018 album Historian. “Most of my songs up to this point have a generality to them — not really specific characters, not specific scenes. Most of the lines you can take out of context and still understand what’s going on,” Dacus told me in 2019 as she was writing Home Video. “These songs, front to back, you have to be paying attention to know what I’m saying. And there are specific characters. They’re about people who are still actually in my life. They’re a lot more journalistic. They’re largely about childhood, which is always super weird.”

That intimacy translated well onstage, at times making the Newport feel like a much smaller venue. At one point someone in the masked crowd handed Dacus a book, as though they were old friends catching up at book club. The crowd also stayed respectfully quiet when Dacus played a number of songs by herself or with minimal accompaniment, which only added to the warm, personal vibe of the show.

More:Staff Pick: Lucy Dacus explores the tenuousness of human connection

These new arrangements were partly due to the band’s missing guitarist, Jacob Blizard, who had to bow out after a positive COVID test. (The band also postponed some recent shows; Blizard has been open about his “moderate” case and expects to fully recover soon.) Often, musicians from the fantastic opening band, Bartees Strange, ably filled in the gaps.

Lucy Dacus performs at the Newport Music Hall on Oct. 12, 2021.

Songs such as “Going Going Gone” became sing-alongs, the crowd filling in for Phoebe Bridgers and Julien Baker, Dacus’ boygenius bandmates who added harmony vocals to the song on Home Video. Even “Thumbs,” perhaps the most personal, painful song Dacus has written, became a group effort. Standing alone in the center of the stage without her guitar, Dacus exhaled deeply, then began singing the story of the day she accompanied a friend who was meeting up with her birth father. 

“I would kill him, if you let me/I would kill him, quick and easy,” she sang, accompanied only by the crowd and the low rumble of a synthesizer playing simple chords. Toward the end of the song, Dacus, who is adopted, tells her friend she doesn’t owe her father anything, a hard truth she has tried to apply to her own situation: “You two are connected by a pure coincidence/Bound to him by blood, but baby, it's all relative.” 

“Hearing people sing along to that is one of the wildest feelings,” Dacus told the crowd after “Thumbs,” which, before including it on the album, she performed live with boygenius but asked that no one record it. Dacus made the same request again during Tuesday's encore when she played two brand new songs, one about searching for a soulmate, and the other documenting a particular New Year’s Eve in New York City, the latter of which she paused halfway through after seeing someone hold up a phone. “Are you filming this?!” she said, then quickly apologized after the person appeared to be taking a photo.  

While the Home Video songs tend to be dark and confessional, there was plenty of levity, too, especially when Dacus covered Springsteen’s “Dancing in the Dark” (“Here’s a song by a dad,” she said while introducing the tune) and when Bartees Strange joined the band for “Night Shift,” the first song on Historian and the last song before the encore.

“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,” Dacus sang on the breakup anthem, jumping and smiling and down-strumming her distorted guitar while reveling in the catharsis of a loud, joyous kiss-off.