MUNA 2024
Photo: Sherin Lainez / Grandstand Media

MUNA’s New Live Album Is a Joyous Hometown Victory

For two nights in Los Angeles, queer indie-pop trio MUNA put on a joyous homecoming concert ten years of dreaming in the making.

Live at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles
MUNA
Saddest Factory
28 June 2024

In 2016, I lived in a leftist vegan commune a few blocks from USC’s campus in South Central, Los Angeles. There was no shortage of parties, and those of us who lived there were lucky enough to have musician friends who were always down to play a show in exchange for some free beers. I remember one group that intimidated me when they frequented our house: the three of them had a friendship that seemed impenetrable, they were a few years ahead of me, and all had the coolest haircuts. The dark, alternative pop they played in our living room absolutely captivated me; they had the stage presence and chemistry of a band far more experienced. It turns out I wasn’t alone in this assessment — within a year, they were touring as an opener for Harry Styles.

The artists in question are MUNA, self-described as “the greatest band in the world”. The trio comprise Katie Gavin, Josette Maskin, and Naomi McPherson, who met while attending USC. Since MUNA’s inception, they’ve released three studio albums, started their hit podcast Gayotic, which has featured guests such as Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker, and even landed an opening spot on the record-breaking Eras Tour with Taylor Swift. The following they’ve developed in that time is overwhelmingly queer and deeply supportive.

So last year, when MUNA announced their two headlining shows at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles, it represented nearly a decade’s worth of actualizing a dream. They played the iconic outdoor venue tucked in the hills of Griffith Park on the 11th and 12th of October 2023, with openers Avery Tucker, Hemlock Springs, Blondshell, and Zsela Thompson spread out over the two evenings. Both shows sold out; the first did so in approximately five minutes. Luckily, for fans unable to get themselves to the Greek, MUNA has released Live at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles, a 21-track album clocking in at nearly an hour and a half, taken from recordings of both evenings.

The setlists from the two nights were nearly identical, consisting of all but one song from MUNA’s most recent, self-titled record, fan favorites from their sophomore record, Saves the World, and even three out of four tracks on their first EP. Like the shows, the album opens with “What I Want”, an unapologetically queer anthem about eschewing shame to taste the pleasure in life truly. (That the track opens with a voice, ostensibly from MUNA’s in-ear monitors, saying, “I’m gonna fade out, aaaand, we’re rolling!” is a notably clever touch.) Though the initial brightness in lead singer Katie Gavin’s voice may come as a surprise to fans more familiar with her recorded work, she quickly resumes her characteristic deep, rich timbre as she settles into the performance.

Throughout Live at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles, MUNA’s incredible musicality is on full display. Gavin’s voice manages power and nuance; the breath control necessary in moments like the crescendoing tidal wave of a bridge on “Stayaway” is impressive enough on the recording but becomes a Herculean feat live. Her vocal riff on the outro of “Pink Light” is another particularly arresting deviation from the studio version. Additionally, McPherson’s backing vocals are more pronounced than they often are on MUNA’s recordings, which is a grateful change — the resultant harmonies are some of the album’s best moments. 

But Live at the Greek Theater achieves another hallmark of all outstanding live records: it showcases MUNA’s dynamic with each other and their fans. The swells in the audience’s screams during sexually charged tracks such as “No Idea” are the result of the leather-clad Gavin grinding suggestively on Maskin during the song’s chorus. (I know because I was there; my friends who attended the show with me informed me that I may have been the fan screaming loudest of all.) Jokes about MUNA’s “new member”, Stacey, highlight MUNA’s esoteric, meme-like humor: Stacey, it turns out, is an inflatable horse referencing the opening line of one of MUNA’s lead singles, “Anything But Me”, where Gavin sings, “You’re gonna say that I’m on a high horse / I think that my horse is regular-sized.”

When the screen onstage displays graphics of the night sky for MUNA’s performance of “Shooting Star”, Maskin comments, “This shit’s wild… it’s super cool to have production.” Hearing the sheer gratitude in her voice, it’s impossible for me not to be reminded of the first time I ever watched this band play live: in a small, cramped, poorly-lit living room with beer-sticky amps. For a moment, the pride of seeing how far they’ve come is so powerful as to be overwhelming.

It is difficult to overstate the significance of Live at the Greek Theater in Los Angeles arriving when it does. Released on 28th June as the perfect send-off to this year’s Pride Month, the album showcases three out and proud queer musicians at the absolute top of their game. In an era when both live music and safe LGBTQ+ spaces are becoming increasingly inaccessible, MUNA’s live record is an incredible act of fan service that never once sacrifices quality.

When MUNA closes their show with their smash hit “Silk Chiffon”, Gavin introduces a guest appearance from Phoebe Bridgers to sing her verse by gleefully shouting, “Phoebe Bridgers in latex, everyone!” The raucous joy of the moment — apparent both in the voices of the friends sharing the stage they’d been dreaming of taking for years and from the unrestrained screams of the crowd — lends credence to Gavin’s farewell: “We’re MUNA, and we’re the greatest band in the world!”

RATING 8 / 10
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