Close your eyes and take a whiff. What’s giving the air an added weight? Is it the scent of sweaty gym socks and athletic cups imbued in the hallowed halls of Nashville’s Bridgestone Arena that hits like Cro-Mags’ John Joseph in the presence of meat? Or is it just the absurdity of the situation? This place, home of the Nashville Predators of the National Hockey League (and, in the loading docks, likely a few ambitiously inebriated bachelorette parties that have taken a wrong turn down Honky Tonk Highway), will soon become filled to the brim with nostalgic teenagers in Tripp pants and millennials in mall goth makeup (blacks and reds, fake blood and false contacts) hoping to recapture the experience of feeling feelings. Back when music was good (that means whatever you were listening to in adolescence) and declaring, “I’m Not Okay (I Promise)” felt like a radical act. I am, of course, talking about emo heartthrobs My Chemical Romance—inarguably the most influential alternative rock band since Nirvana; that’s a fact, no matter how you slice it—who are now on their 20-year anniversary tour around the world, 21 years later.
I’m here, in this horseshoe-shaped arena that resembles an ancient Greek tabernacle, because of My Chemical Romance, but not for them. In a corner of this labyrinth, in the early afternoon before soundcheck, I’m seated in one of the backstage locker rooms with my dear friends Dilly Dally—vocalist Enda Monks (they/them), guitarist Liz Ball (she/they), bassist Annie Jane Marie (she/her), and token straight/drummer Benjamin Reinhartz (he/him). You’ve either never heard the Toronto-based noise-punk indie band, or you’ve heard them unimaginatively compared to the Pixies, or you’re completely obsessed with them. There’s no in between, and I’m firmly in the last camp. But no one could’ve expected this, an email offer to open a few dates on MCR’s Southwest run of the United States—even though the band’s rhythm guitarist Frank Iero is quietly recognized in certain music circles as a huge supporter of DIY music—because, truthfully, it is an absolutely bon- kers pairing. (Just think of all the out-of-work ’00s nasal pop-punk bands who might’ve more conventionally fit the bill!) In the interest of all things a little off-kilter, I asked to tag along and take some photos. What happens when a promising young indie rock band, beloved by all the most interesting and influential people, finds itself on stage in front of 20,000 suburban music fans each night?
“When I was young, Liz and I used to be like, ‘We’re going to be rock stars!’” Monks says with a laugh. “But it wasn’t a plan. It was a fantasy.”
You know, until it wasn’t.
In 2009, before Dilly Dally became Dilly Dally—as in, a band and not just an idea—Monks and Ball moved to Toronto and got matching “DD” tattoos at the not-at-all-tacky Tattoo Rock Parlour. They knew they were onto something, even if they might’ve had only a few demos between them. Eventually, ambitions aligned with reality, and they joined forces with Marie and Reinhartz, self-releasing their first single, “Next Gold” (recorded during a 2013 session with Josh Korody, known for his work with Fucked Up, Austra, and Owen Pallett). Two full-length records followed: 2015’s Sore, a thrilling, grunge-y alt-rock treatise on desire, sent soaring by Monks’ inimitable vocal howl—messy, carnal, a controlled crumbling, weather-worn—and 2018’s Heaven, their latest release. It was “the record we’d make if the band had died and gone to heaven,” as Monks puts it. The same thrills from Sore are present—distorted guitars, massive drum thrills, Monks’ singular snarl—but with a new, matured optimism. (On the opening track, the chorus kicks: “I feel free,” Monks’ growl ascends, “and I want you to find it.”) Huge tours followed in 2018 and 2019, includ- ing dates with indie singer-songwriter Mitski, skater-haters Fidlar, and alt-punks Against Me!, highlighting the band’s sonic plasticity. Then: A global pandemic hit, a few huge personal life changes took priority, and Dilly Dally slipped into a quiet respite.
Until now. After a single hometown show in Toronto at the Garrison in March 2022 (an emotional one where the band reintroduced themselves to their scene, Marie coming out as trans and Monks coming out as nonbinary. “People kept acknowledging Annie by her dead name,” Monks says. “We felt like we wanted to say something”), Dilly Dally find themselves traversing the lower U.S. in an eight-person passenger van, opening for one of the biggest rock bands on the planet. Funny how life works. Rock ’n’ roll’s alive, and so is the tour diary.