After we arrived at Emo's, searched for an unobscured view, and waited for the show to start, we had a few minutes to chat and look at the stage design before the show. Racks of scaffolding that supported the lightshow that would later be used for Charli XCX's set were in full view under the house lights. Later on in the night, the lights would be put to wonderful effect, but for now they sat on stage, derelict, like the skyline of an abandoned city. This stage set the perfect backdrop to an opening set from Tommy Genesis.
Tommy's set began slowly, before the artist stepped onto the stage, with a spoken-word bit over synth pads much like the intro to her first album World Vision. Upon hearing it, the audience went rapt, searching for the source. Tommy Genesis ran onto the stage moments later, hair pulled back, a mountain of chains swinging around her neck. The crowd pulsed with energy. For the rest of her set, Tommy expertly manipulated her audience, stopping songs halfway through, encouraging the audience to sing along, and even bringing Charli up on stage early to do a verse on their song 100 Bad.
It is notoriously difficult for opening acts to get a reaction from the audience: people in the crowd are still getting warmed up, and want to conserve their energy for the headliner. But Tommy's infectious energy made it impossible not to dance along. Rapping in the loud, stacatto style that characterizes most of her songs, she ran from one side of the stage to the other, always moving, always giving 100% to the crowd. Her frequent ad-libs and sparse moments of vocal strain made for a sound that was pleasingly human and live, a sound that you wouldn't hear on any of her recordings. However, the vulnerability of her set is what took me by surprise. Her songs, although thick with braggadocio, also contain themes of lust, heartbreak, and escape; emotions that we all feel but are often unable to express publicly.
If Charli XCX's pop gives us an aspirational vision of the future, Tommy Genesis gives us the future's seedy, cyberpunk underbelly. The harshness of the scaffolding onstage perfectly complimented this image. Her songs express a desire to escape from the confines of what society has become through hedonism and romance. Of course, my over-analysis of her set misses the point. Tommy’s songs are fun. They’re high-energy, they make you feel Bad in the best way possible. It took me a while to write this review because, although I tried to keep mental notes at the time, I wasn’t paying attention to the thematic nuances of Tommy’s set. I was dancing.
Photo credit: Emily Gardner