Hunter Center, Mass MoCA
North Adams, MA
April 28, 2022
Story, photos, and video by Kelly D
Additional photography and video by Miles Hurley, Nicole Letourneau, and kind strangers
Note: This is as much a short memoir as it is a concert review. Proceed with that in mind 🙂
My life is now firmly divided into two distinct phases: the time before I danced with Lucius onstage with my sister and best friend, and the time after I danced with Lucius onstage with my sister and best friend.
It is not hyperbole to tell you I’d been preparing for this moment just about all my life and for it to play out almost exactly as I thought it would is truly transcendent. The divine feminine was radiating all around us and Lucius provided the setting. I can’t possibly be more grateful.
Let me provide some background: I’ve been a huge fan of Lucius since 2015-2016, when my sister Becca introduced me to their music (and she herself was introduced to their music by our local radio station WRSI, 93.9 The River). The haunting voices of Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe sounded like a fresh modern take on the “wall of sound” girl groups of the 1960s (not to mention their fun shtick of dressing identically) and as luck would have it, just as I was getting into them, they released their sophomore album Good Grief. I saw them in concert with Becca, dressed similarly as the two leading ladies would, later that year in September at the Academy of Music in Northampton, MA. I was hooked, particularly when they changed into matching cloaks with ravens embroidered on them and whisped their way around the theater singing their song “Pulling Teeth”: “something’s comin’/hold it there just a little bit longer/It will come to you”- oh, if you only knew, 2016 Kelly!
Since then, I’ve seen them twice on their cheekily titled Live Nudes tour- acoustic and awesome, twice with Roger Waters as his backup singers and making me burst into tears when they performed “The Great Gig in the Sky,” and a handful of other times before the pandemic slammed the brakes on everything we were doing and working towards in our lives: namely, putting on and seeing live music.
As depressing and scary as those first few months in quarantine were, the Lucius gals wasted no time in providing entertainment for those of us stuck at home. They hosted a virtual open mic, a Zoom-based dance party called “Two of Us On the Dance Floor Disco Night,” and several performances of their own that benefited various Los Angeles-based small businesses. I truly appreciated that they heeded the call to keep music in our lives, as strange as it was to rely on the internet and livestreams to have it remain there.
In winter 2022 I’d noticed some cryptic posts shared on the band’s official Instagram. Sure enough, they were teasing the announcement of their third full-length album, Second Nature, and an upcoming tour. In my excitement, I scanned the list of tour dates to see that their second tour date was in Boston. “Guess I’m going to Boston!” I thought. Then I paused and looked at the first tour date. Thursday, April 28th: Mass MoCA – North Adams, MA. My favorite contemporary band was kicking off their first international tour since the pandemic-induced shutdown in my own freaking area code! I was PUMPED, especially since their first single “Next to Normal” had come out and their new disco sound gelled well with my new rollerskating habit and overall music taste.
Then, in early February, I once again caught a post on the Lucius Instagram about seven minutes after it was published: “Want to be in a music video?” it asked. Of course I did. I filled out the form and then promptly forgot about it till I got a mysterious email in late February congratulating me for being selected to participate in the new Lucius music video for their unreleased song “Dance Around It,” and here’s all the requirements to participate, and oh yes, it all needs to be submitted four days from now by midnight on Sunday the 28th! Oh Fortuna! I had a packed weekend and the theme was “all dressed up and nowhere to go,” a party in one’s living room. Surely a party = nighttime vibes, right? That meant I only had two viable options to create a party atmosphere in my living room, and Becca insisted on participating because, among other reasons, she had been the one to introduce me to the band. She said something like, “If you get to be in the music video without me, I’m going to kill you,” her face clouding over. So, we dressed in red outfits from my Costume Library (more on that soon), drank out of tiny glasses of beer, and twirled around my living room to an extremely slowed-down version of “Dance Around It,” not even knowing what the actual song would sound like till Second Nature was officially released in early April.
Well, as it turned out, our submissions didn’t make the final cut and when we saw the music video, there were plenty of fan-submitted clips in broad daylight. If we had only known! So, a bit disappointed, I held onto the fact that at least we were asked to be in the video at all. I also held onto a hunch that the party vibe would translate into the live concert experience, hearing the aforementioned disco influence in “Next to Normal” and noticing that the “Dance Around It” music video looked like the Zoom dance party they put on for us in spring 2020- people dancing in their living rooms, their hot tubs, their kitchens, all decked out in feather boas, sunglasses, with their homes decorated like a nightclub (with stuff purchased thanks to our stimulus checks? Who can say)- a whole tableau of socially-distanced fun.
Cut to the last week of April. A few days before the tour began at Mass MoCA, Holly and Jess posted a video on Instagram and TikTok putting out a call to action: that their fans show up to the concerts in full “sparkle beast” regalia, challenging us to “out-sparkle them.” “GAME FREAKING ON,” I thought. As it happened, in the years before and especially during the quarantine part of the pandemic, I had been slowly but surely adding to what I call my Costume Library: an explosion of cocktail dresses, catsuits, scarves, hats, wigs, stuff to put on your head like horns and goggles and pinwheels, patterned leggings and shiny bell bottoms, tutus, corsets and other assorted lingerie, gloves, robes, sequined everything, as well as a smattering of wings and capes- an assortment of ridiculous and outstanding wearables that lives in my bedroom. Fancydress, cosplay, whatever you call it: it’s always been an important part of my life since my early years when I took dance classes and had recitals in heavy makeup and dresses that fan out when you twirl in them. My weekly rollerskating night also proved to be an excellent reason to get gussied up in my Costume Library wares when COVID wiped out all other social occasions. This is what I mean when I say I’ve been preparing for this moment all my life: there was no need to go on an emergency trip to buy something to wear; I had it all and then some already, ready to go.
That same day, I invited my friend Chelsea to the show a few days later on the 28th. She had just made a big life transition and was going through some stages of grief. We had seen Lucius together, along with Becca, my partner Stevie, and some other friends at a free outdoor concert in Portsmouth, NH in 2019. She demurred at first and then immediately changed her mind. “I can and I should,” she wrote to me via Snapchat. Becca almost decided against going too, but I insisted that she HAD to: there was no other date in the Northeast that made more sense for her to attend than the tour opener in North Adams, our own neck of the woods! I essentially did the text message equivalent of putting my foot down, and she saw the light and showed up in my apartment an hour later.
Almost every single thing the three of us wore that night came from my Costume Library. Of course we went heavy on the sequins and sparkles, but the coup de grace came when I remembered I had purchased an assortment of battery-operated “fairy lights” back in December and decided to wrap one set around my torso and offered another set to both Chelsea and Becca. They got themselves set up and wired up and we were off to North Adams. As it happened, there was a beautiful sunset and as we approached the Wigwam Western Summit, the highest point of Route 2, we decided to stop and take some photos. Then came the barrage of compliments about our outfits. I kid you not, people were leaning out of their car windows screaming kind things about how we looked. Even when we went down the mountain to the famous hairpin turn, it continued. Even in the parking lot of Mass MoCA, it was nonstop. Even in the line to flash vax cards and tickets. It was unreal. We were getting stopped to have our photos taken every few minutes! We began to get a little concerned that no one else had heeded the call of the Sparkle Beast, but were soothed when we saw a woman in an emerald green sequined jumpsuit walk by and a gaggle of children in matching sequined outfits with their mother who was also dressed head to toe in multicolored sequins.
As a result of our timing, we missed the opening act, Charlie Hickey. But it so happened that some of our dear friends were also attending the concert so we got to hang out with them a bit in the hallway adjacent to the Hunter Center in the museum. Then 9 o’ clock rolled around so we headed into the theater. The compliments began again in earnest. “You win,” several people said. I admit I had been daydreaming since Holly and Jess had posted the video that we’d get called up onstage and get to dance with them. I let myself return to that fantastic scenario and feel the anticipatory butterflies in my stomach.
I had received a photo pass and permission to go towards the front of the theater to shoot the first three songs, so I made my way to the “VIP” section and clicked off my lights and took off my headband that had two iridescent pinwheels sticking off it. No need to attract attention to myself just then, especially given the night I had thus far.
The house lights went down. The audience began cheering. The band members emerged from the darkness and took their places by their instruments. (The members of the band this time around are: Alex Pfender on guitar and synthesizer, Peter Woodman on synthesizers and guitar, Solomon Dorsey on bass guitar and bass synthesizer, and Bill Campbell on percussion, and Dan Molad on drums.) The smoke machines erupted. And out strutted Holly Laessig and Jess Wolfe in nearly identical white suits with multicolored beaded teardrops sewn on them. “Feels. . . Like. . . Second. Nature,” they whispered into their mics, snapping in unison.
It occurred to me that this was the first time anyone (besides those in LA who had seen them at a special performance a few weeks prior) had witnessed their new tunes being performed. I almost began to cry. It was so great to see these ladies smiling and singing together in person after such a long delay. I bopped along to “Second Nature” and “Next to Normal,” the first two songs off the new album, loving the coordinated dance moves the gals had assembled for the tour.
I realized that I didn’t know the third song at all- which apparently is called “Muse,” and has not yet been released on any of their musical platforms. Intriguing! And tricky! This was also the case for three other songs in their set- two covers and one, long, almost progressive rock-like song called “Supernatural Girl.” I hope that means a deluxe edition of Second Nature is in the works because I always need more Lucius in my life and on my Spotify.
I made my way back to Becca and Chelsea in the general admission crowd. We sang, we danced, we did a little choreography to go along with the lyrics. I noticed the setlist skewed more towards the ballads and the powerhouse vocal performances in the Lucius catalog- “Tempest” (completed with a passionate a cappella breakdown with the gals bashing their mirrorplate-encrusted toms in unison), “Promises,” “The Man I’ll Never Find,” “Dusty Trails.” I’ve written before about how “Dusty Trails” reminded me of a dear friend who didn’t make it past 27 and it was hard not to shed a tear.
It got to about halfway through the set and I wondered “I wonder when this contest is going to happen, and HOW it’s going to happen. . .” and then Jess said something like, “I’ve noticed there are some Sparkle Beasts in the audience, roaming freely. We see you. Can we see more of you? Who’s the SPARKLIEST?”
And then, I couldn’t make this up if I tried- the crowd turned towards us, gave us a wide berth, and pointed. Like Moses parting the Red Sea. IT WAS HAPPENING. “Wow, that’s helpful,” quipped the Lucius ladies. “Wanna come up here?” And we moved towards the barrier that separated the VIP and general admission crowds. . . I began to have an out-of-body experience so I didn’t hear the security guard say “Come this way”. . . But then the gals onstage said, “Why don’t you come ALL the way up here?” Oh, crap, it was getting real.
We waded our way through the audience and backstage, almost tripping (interpret that however you want), and up onto the stage. We heard “waiting music” and then saw the bright lights of the stage. . . And Jess, Holly, and their band- the band who has carried me through some of my most recent dramatic life changes, up close and personal. The butterflies of anticipation turned to hornets of “I can’t believe this is actually happening” nausea. They sized us up. And then came perhaps the most validating sentence of my life: “We may have been outsparkled,” they intoned. “They got twinkly lights?! Okay!”
My favorite (contemporary) band just told us that we BROUGHT IT. With stuff that I had ANYWAY. I can die happy now.
But there still was more to do onstage: I got placed front and center with Becca to my right and Chelsea to my left. Oh, and I also made Jess laugh when she was explaining what was happening: we were going to dance onstage with them, just like I had dreamed. “I don’t know if you know HOW to dance,” she said, which I immediately took joking umbrage to, and then continued, “I can tell you LIKE to dance,” and I leaned over and said, “And isn’t that what’s important?” And oh my stars, she chuckled.
I guess they weren’t expecting three people to come and dance but we were obviously a package deal. “Ya know. Unexpected surprises,” Holly explained. “We’re gonna be a little COVID awkward, but we’re. . . ‘Dancing Around It,’” Jess said casually. . . And I fully lost my mind. Not only was I validated in my wardrobe choices by two of the most lovely songstress fashionistas I’ve had the pleasure of loving, but the very song for whom the music video Becca and I were left on the cutting room floor? We get to dance with the band onstage during its first live performance on their international tour instead- on our “home turf,” even?! WELL I GUESS THAT’S A SUITABLE CONSOLATION PRIZE!
Oh, and plot twist, I was subtly filming my POV on my phone the entire time so I have it all recorded for posterity. And when I looked in the crowd I saw my dear friend Nicole filming it too- so I have a multi-angle view of what is certainly one of the most important experiences of my life. We heard Dan, still the band’s drummer despite he and Jess divorcing over the course of lockdown- props to both of them- providing much of the content of Second Nature, smash out the opening beats of “Dance Around It,” and it was time to dance, sing, do my little personal choreography to the song’s lyrics, record, live in the moment, and try not to throw up and scream and cry all at the same time.
I think I did a good job. A funny moment- right after one of my favorite lyrics for how almost explicit it is, “I just touch myself cuz I don’t wanna f-” the concert lights went dark and some of the audience members (and I) shouted out the remaining syllable, me with my finger over my mask.
There was a lot of twirling. As I spun around, I looked over at my sister, closer than a best friend, shaking it onstage to her favorite band, and to Chelsea, someone who’s been a constant in my life for about seven years and has grown so truly into herself, flowing with grace to a song all about love burning out and still dancing around it. And they weren’t even going to attend the concert! Then, of course, there was Holly and Jess, two goddesses, quite literally next to me, behind me, in front of me, moving around the stage with such ease. I had to do a quick Wayne’s World “we’re not worthy” salaam at the climax of the song, and then boom! It was over almost quickly as it started.
Out came one of their crew members and we all got little cardboard crowns with little craft store gems on them- plus “S N” standing for Second Nature– and beautiful sashes that said “DANCE, QUEEN!” and we were thanked for our talents. Time to go. We scuttled off back into the crowd, all the while still getting complimented by audience members for what a great job we did, hardly able to catch our breath. We returned to our spot that we had secured in that ancient time before we danced onstage with Lucius, but then I began to feel a familiar sensation- total and complete sensory overwhelm. I needed a break. I suggested to Becca and Chelsea that we take a moment and drink some water in the lobby of the museum and they gratefully agreed. As a result, we missed most of “24” but I trust it was incredible. We all looked, gobsmacked and astounded, at each other like “Did that just happen?!” as tears once again welled up in my eyes. This is what happens when dreams come true, apparently- there’s some moments of being completely unprepared for what happens next. Still a little woozy, we went back into the crowd but towards the edge of it with some room to dance. There, we saw the last few songs- two songs from Second Nature, the heartbreaking “White Lies” and the life-affirming “Heartbursts,” along with the aforementioned dynamic, as-yet-unreleased “Supernatural Girl”- before the gals did their own costume change into silver sparkly fringy outfits for the incredible encore. As an aside, we love a costume change moment. Sparkle Beasts of the world, rise up! The Lucius gals are leading the charge!
Singing along (poorly) with Becca to “Two of Us on the Run” and “Turn It Around”- classics from their first album Wildewoman– the incredible young woman who I just happen to be related to, is always going to be a treasure. And getting to do it with Chelsea, my fellow Gemini queen who is entering her 30th year with strength and confidence? Just wow. It was around that time that I realized (cuz I took mine off) that they had autographed the inside of our Sparkle Beast crowns, writing “You unleashed your Sparkle Beast, xoxo Holly and Jess”! OMG!
When they segued into “I Feel Love,” the iconic Donna Summer/Giorgio Moroder disco track, I knew I had to meet up with Nicole, the fabulous woman who got me into rollerskating. “I Feel Love” happens to be a popular track to skate to at our particular rink and hearing Lucius’ spin on it was too perfect, cuz we were missing our weekly skate session to attend the concert! I told Chelsea and Becca to follow me to where Nicole, her sister Dani, and fellow friends Caitlin and Suzanne where positioned and grooved out till the very end of the night. Jess and Holly introduced the members of their band and then each of the women introducing the other- I love Holly naming her beyond bestie Jess Wolfe with a joyful “A-WOOOOOOOlfe!” They then rounded out their tribute to the Queen of Disco with a spectacular shimmering rainbow stage light bonanza and soaring siren-like vocals. And in a flash, it was finished.
As we all filed out, I got a better glimpse of other Sparkle Beast’ outfits. One resembled a yassified Koosh Ball. When another tried to say “Oh, I can’t even compete with yours” after I complimented her ensemble, I kindly shut her down with one of my favorite phrases, paraphrased from my friend who I met through my other favorite band Rush, who nicked it from David Letterman: “This is an exhibition, not a competition: please, no wagering.” There is room for everyone to sparkle and shine in their own ways. There is no hierarchy in the realm of the Sparkle Beasts, but boy am I thankful we got to be the first ones. Lucius, do you have ANY idea what you just unleashed?!
- Second Nature
- Next to Normal
- Muse (aka Calling Out Your Name)
- The Man I’ll Never Find
- Dusty Trails
- Lesson in Leavin’ (Dottie West cover)
- How Loud Your Heart Gets
- Dance Around It
- White Lies
- Supernatural Girl
- Two of Us on the Run
- Turn It Around
- I Feel Love (Donna Summer cover)
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