The Darkness of Phoebe Bridgers

Word by Corinne Bates

The room was dark. So dark that the only photos I could get showcased the mic-stand wrapped in fairy lights more than any member of the band on stage, but I wouldn’t have had it any other way.

Darkness suits Phoebe Bridgers. She almost exclusively wears black when performing, making her pale complexion and near-white hair stand out. Pulling all of the attention in the room to her as she sings her hauntingly clever sad songs.

Courtesy of Frank Ockenfels

Courtesy of Frank Ockenfels

She’s hard not to pay attention to as she starts off the set with “Smoke Signals”, the first single from her debut album, Stranger in the Alps. It’s the first time I’ve seen her play with a full band, and the difference really shows in this song. While still beautiful with just her and her guitarist, Harrison Whitford, the ambiance is tenfold with percussion, bass, and keyboard filling the room with a soft intensity. It feels complete. A blanket of sound enveloping Antone’s on a cold Saturday night.

Bridgers isn’t just good at singing sad songs. Her sharp onstage banter pulls the audience in even more. Making the show seem like a gathering of friends more than a performance. Her backing band for this tour includes: Anna Butters on bass, Nick White on keyboard, Harrison Whitford on guitar, and as Bridgers introduced him “my ex boyfriend Marshall Vore on drums”. To which he responds with a sound from his sample pad, which affectionately proclaims “you’re not my fucking mother”.

They launch into the next song and at one point Vore must have accidentally knocked the sample pad. It was masked mostly by the song, but Bridgers berated him after to which he responded “it was a fucking mistake! A giant mistake!” All after a song about singing at a funeral.

Bridgers is very aware of the dark subject matter within her songs. Introducing “Chelsea” by saying, “This is the first song I wrote about death, probably, as far as I can remember, played on a sparkly guitar”. There are at least three songs about death on the album, which is honestly pretty impressive.

This is her first headline tour despite it being named the “Farewell Tour”. So she was able to play longer. Including “Steam Roller” in the set, which was on her 2015 Killer EP put out by Ryan Adam’s Pax-Am Records. This song has one of my favorite brutally relatable lyrics from Bridgers, “I am tired of being sad/ I feel it when I wake up/ and it just stays bad”.

Everyone left the stage while she introduced the song by saying, “I’m gonna play an old one now, but they’re probably all new to you guys. So who cares”. The show was sold out, so it’s likely none of these songs were new to most of the people there. The crowd listened intently to each word and sang softly along to her more popular tracks: “Motion Sickness,” “Funeral,” and “Smoke Signals”. Whenever she is in Texas she covers “Peek A Boo” by Daniel Johnston, which she introduced this time as “the saddest song in the world”.

The band returned after the cover to play crowd favorite “Motion Sickness.” Making the crowd cheer as she holds out a note near the end. Showing off the control she has over her voice, which is easy to look past in softer songs. This song really benefited from the full band and the addition of harmonies though they could have been louder throughout the set, especially during the duet section of “Would You Rather”.

She closed out the set with “Scott Street.” Launching large black balloons that rained down large strips of silver confetti when popped as she repeated “anyway don’t be a stranger” and the music swelled around her.

When she left the stage, the lights stayed down, encouraging the crowd to beg for an encore. She came back out with Whitford and Vore. But before gracing us with her final song, she crouched down to take a picture with two people dressed as ghosts in the front row. It was just one of the many times we got to see how excited Bridgers was to be doing this. Singing her songs to a room full of people who are there for her and all while sharing the stage with some of her best friends.

She composed herself a bit, Vore took his place behind a microphone instead of the drums, and Whitford took his seat. “We have one that we can do, and it’s the saddest” she said. They began to play “You Missed My Heart” by Mark Kozelek, a track included at the end of her album right before the “Smoke Signals (Reprise).”

She pulled the microphone from the stand holding it close to her chest as she sang. Allowing the song to pull her to the floor, finishing the set with her knees to her chest as her voice cut through the air.