The COVID-19-necessitated limited audience of this year’s fall Music Entertainment Committee (MEC) concert was fitting for the chosen band. Gully Boys, a Minneapolis-based up-and-coming grunge band with a distinctly riot grrrl vibe, was accustomed to energizing an otherwise timid crowd. Like many grunge bands, they formed by picking up instruments and figuring it out together. In a remarkably short two years after starting out, the group ruled the First Avenue Best New Bands showcase in 2018 and were slated for numerous high-profile gigs that were all cancelled due to COVID-19.
“You don’t need to know how to play, just start a band!” called out drummer and vocalist Nadirah McGill. The amateur-garage-band-of-friends-turned-massive-success lingered over a staggeringly powerful and textured performance. Standing in the Pause, caught in the technicolor lights and heartfelt lyrical fire of guitarist and singer Kaytee Callahan, it was impossible not to feel that I was witnessing a group on the verge of something huge.
That sense of anticipation was also present with the opener, campus band Gnome Garden. Composed of Alexander Bales ’21 and Aidan Schoff ’21, and joined by Devin Cuneen ’21, the band played mostly music from their forthcoming EP, which they will release on Oct. 30. Their light, jazzy and romantic drums, keyboard and wah-pedal’d-guitar combo created a relaxed atmosphere perfectly suited to the imminent cataclysm of Gully Boys.
Gully Boys’ intense, almost earthquake-like sound of McGill’s drums and Natalie Klemmond’s bass performance provided a fantastic foundation for Callahan’s explosive guitar and vocals. Any band that could motivate a socially-distanced crowd in what felt like a nearly empty venue—again due to COVID-19 restrictions—to unabashedly dance and bang their heads deserves heaps of praise. Considering the concert was the band’s first real live performance since pandemic began in March, their polish and emotional intensity were even more impressive.
Over the past few years, music critics have wondered whether or not alternative youth culture was going to inspire a resurgence in punk and gritty alternative rock, but rocketing popularity of electronic music has thwarted the resurgence. It is no question that Gully Boys has their hand on the pulse of youth culture, with charismatic asides about idiots not wearing masks and the trials and tribulations of Zoom University. Furthermore, the band’s composition of two women and one non-binary individual allows them to escape the cliched songwriting of “sad-white-boy-grunge.” Gully Boys made a proclamation on no uncertain terms: “We are here, we are fantastic and we are growing.”
It is not difficult to imagine the crowd that Gully Boys might have drawn if weather had permitted MEC to continue their original plan of hosting the concert outside as the music was magnetic. The performance inspired just the feeling good grunge and punk aims to: I felt the world fade away, my inhibitions, worries and academic concerns melting beneath me. I think we all could use a bit of that right now.