Diet Cig (photo: Bailey Greenwood)
The words “infectious” and “bubbly” get thrown around a lot to describe musicians, particularly of the female variety. While at initial glance, these would seem praiseworthy phrases, they’re often coded expressions for vacuous or inane behaviors, and they’re usually deployed by grumpy music writers (often of the male variety) who are skeptical of anything they view as outwardly earnest or emotionally un-ironic.
So, let me be very clear: you’d have to be one grumpy dude not to revel in the infectious, bubbly energy of Diet Cig singer/guitarist Alex Luciano.
Luciano is a five-foot ball of manic drive with an endless battery life, a full-time pogo stick, the living manifestation of a 5-Hour Energy drink. Seeing her perform is an affirmation of indie rock at a time when so much discussion focuses on the genre’s self-destruction. She makes you feel enlivened and enthusiastic, even when you’re watching a performance late on a weekday night and you have to go to work early the next morning. That was exactly the case on Wednesday, when Diet Cig performed at Brick and Mortar Music Hall as part of the Noise Pop Music and Arts Festival.
Although Luciano is only 21 (breaking news: I’m fucking old), Diet Cig has been a buzz band for several years now, owing to the strength of the duo’s five-song EP, Over Easy, which was released in 2015. The band’s formula is simple — drummer Noah Bowman provides a rolling, reckless pace while Luciano joyfully sings over a din of indie-punk guitars. Their songs all clock in at around two minutes, and Luciano’s lyrics typically focus on ridiculing snobbish elitists.
On Wednesday night, the duo dipped immediately into their material from Over Easy, opening with “Cardboard,” “Breathless,” and “Scene Sick,” three condensed pop nuggets that showcase Luciano’s talent to seem both exasperated and indifferent to the hipsters detailed in her songs. After easing the audience in with their familiar tunes, the band played several songs off their upcoming debut album, Swear I’m Good At This, which is due for release on April 7.
The new tracks represented a slight deviation from the Diet Cig formula, with Luciano noting that one of the tunes was their first “slow jam,” but for the most, the songs contained the same euphoric, defiant tone of Over Easy.
Throughout the performance, Luciano was a restless, frenzied presence, bopping up and down repeatedly while she tore into her guitar. Whether it was scaling an amp or hopping into the sold-out crowd, Luciano found the perfect balance between unpredictability and beloved rock star tropes — just enough so that you couldn’t take your eyes off her. During the set, she would occasionally break up the music to tell a sweet personal story, like how she just turned legal drinking age this year, or how her and Bowman met in clown college (I think that was a lie).
She also made a particularly poignant salute to her transgender friends, dedicating the group’s latest single, “Tummy Ache,” to all the members of that community. In light of the president’s cruel decision that day to roll back protections against transgender students, that aside took on a weightier quality.
After that tender moment, Diet Cig closed the show with “Harvard Sweater,” their glorious kiss-off track from Over Easy. Luciano abandoned all pretense for that number, bee-lining off the stage and into the crowd, eventually making it completely outside the venue, much to the chagrin of the poor kid in charge of her guitar cables.
It was a wholly appropriate close to a helluva set, one that clocked in under 40 minutes, but never felt rushed or incomplete. Indie rock can be a zero-sum game at times, one where people are reluctant to show authenticity or earnestness for fear of looking uncool. Luciano has no such fear, and for that, we should all be grateful.