“Garage pop-rock” conjures images of teenage boys in their parents’ garages, playing clumsy power chords on red Fenders, but Bruiser Queen’s Thursday opening show for SadGirl at Cornerstone Craft Beer & Live Music possessed a different aesthetic. The band’s rendition of “garage pop-rock” includes a pink-haired frontwoman, a passionate drummer and eight years’ worth of fine-tuning their sound to the contagious catchiness that permeates it.
Being that it was a rainy weeknight, Cornerstone’s concert floor was less populated than usual. By the time that Bruiser Queen entered the stage, the venue was still only about half full.
This audience was fairly spread apart towards the middle and back of the room. Few were pressed up against the stage, as per typical rock show form. It can be difficult for opening bands to rev up a crowd that isn’t looking to be revved. But Bruiser Queen took that challenge and did away with it as soon as the duo started playing its 12-song setlist.
Being a rock band made up of only two people is ambitious. There’s the danger of not getting a quite full enough sound, especially because Bruiser Queen, when playing live, lacks a bass player. But you’d never be able to tell if the two-piece felt the weight of that expectation. Onstage, there is only Morgan Nusbaum with her guitar and Jason Potter with his drums, producing a rock ‘n roll sound normally produced by four or more people.
Nevertheless, when recording, the band has the added benefit of being able to add in other instruments, such as bass and keyboard. Nusbaum and Potter don’t employ other members for the sake of touring, but they manage to pull off an amazing show with just the two of them, solely because their skills are well-practiced and their notes and lyrics delivered without flaw.
The setlist included older releases such as “On the Radio,” which was included on Bruiser Queen’s 2014 EP Sweet Static, while also celebrating newer tracks from the band’s newest album, Heavy High. The duo also played a few unreleased songs, noting this before launching into each performance. It was a balanced selection that highlighted Bruiser Queen’s strengths, flexing a complete knowledge of their genre and a commitment to seeing it through.
Nusbaum is a natural performer, dancing and swaying her hair excitedly as she sings her heart out. As Bruiser Queen’s guitarist, she also showed herself to be a fan of guitar stunts, leaning back towards the ground and keeping her guitar held up straight in the air, never missing a note.
Still, the remarkable achievement of a two-piece band rocking out like a full-sized band would not have been attained without the talents of Potter. A band’s drummer often blends into the background, overshadowed both literally and figuratively by the guitarists and vocalists, those who typically dominate performances.
But with Bruiser Queen, both Nusbaum and Potter stand on equal ground. Each makes up half the show — Potter is not simply obscured in darkness upstage. And Potter deserves this platform. He’s an excited drummer, one who’s clearly dedicated to the showmanship of his craft, one who expertly banged away at the cymbals, smiling all the while.
Most importantly, Bruiser Queen impressed with the immensity of its show-stopping performance. Its music calls back to exciting pop and rock tracks — the type of tunes that everyone wants to dance along with, even if they’re not completely familiar with the people playing. It’s rare to witness this level of escalating excitement — with each song that Bruiser Queen played, the audience only got more invested in the groove.
Bruiser Queen accomplished the best possible scenario for an opener — while few in the audience may have even known of the band before the show, by its final few songs, the whole room was dancing along — an outcome the duo will undoubtedly achieve once it headlines Cornerstone on its own.