Phoebe Bridgers reaches into herself and finds that melancholy, she beats it into submission with wit and sarcasm and humor and talent, then she opens her mouth and lets it all escape.
Try to get close enough to hear her voice before it enters the microphone, before it gets electrocuted on its way to the sound system and is made accessible to a capacity crowd in a charming, divey bar.
Early in her set, she played “Would You Rather,” a song she recorded with Conor Oberst. He has been present at some of her shows during her first headlining tour, which made its stop at the Turf Club on 4/20, and there was a palpable moment of mild disappointment when Oberst did not materialize for the duet. That moment, however, was quickly relinquished. This was Bridgers’ night. She doesn’t need any backup or safety net and is already inspiring the kind of swooning, sing-a-long fandom that is growing rare in the digital age. She is coming into her own on her first headlining tour, learning how to carry a show and lead a band, shedding her persona as a memorable ‘special guest’ or an ‘opening act’ for a position to which she seems more suited.
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Phoebe Bridgers (@_fake_nudes_) might actually be an angel. Such an amazing show at the @turfclubmn last night! • • • #turfclub #turfclubmn #phoebebridgers #strangerinthealps #concert #music #concertphotography #livemusic #nowlistening #stpsoundsperfect #mysaintpaul #stpaul #saintpaul
Bridgers’ own opening act, a performer billed as Lomelda, was the perfect enigma to set the tone for a night of emphasized authentic poetic communication. She is a Texas singer/songwriter named Hannah Read. She emerged in a heavy jacket and hoodie pulled up over her short-cropped bangs, staring out past long-rimmed glasses, looking hopeful and buzzing with energetic anxiety. Her appearance walled her off from the audience and allowed the crowd to put its attention on the music.
She had a nervous charm as she busied her hands between a table full of pedals and switches that produced the bass-heavy rhythm to accompany her emotional singing and soft guitar playing. The songs were beautiful and raw, her voice resonating from a place beyond her small frame.
“Buttons and knobs, buttons and knobs,” she lamented during a pause in the set, before revealing her tired reliance on the digital world. “You guys came here to hear music made by people and robots. We love our robots more than anything else.” As Lomelda manipulated the digital technology to serve her emotional purpose, a communique from inside her shell, a hope for humanity emerged and suddenly the computers didn’t seem so threatening. The only frustration now is Lomelda’s sparse online presence, which begs a little more time commitment from her new fans. Time which should be granted.
The opening moments of Bridgers’ set were orchestrated as well, though not quite as bluntly as Lomelda’s jacket and hoodie, to put the audience’s focus on point. The band’s tailored suits erred on the side of class. The bass and keyboard color matched the pickguard on the guitar that matched the drums accented by white twinkly lights and a bass drum head with Bridgers name spelled out in death-metal lettering. Bridgers black dress and stockings helped to make her fair complexion and silver hair glow in the lights of the stage.
The band entered quietly and played the first song without introduction. These are the cool kids, ‘California chill’ done right. They were stoic but eager, professional in their rock and roll lifestyle, making the most of a life where money isn’t a primary concern, but the condition of their souls certainly is. This picture was painted so that when Bridgers opened her mouth, we were listening.
Her songs are about the effort to combat sadness, pointless rebellion, or difficult men with music and exaggeration and jokes and jabs. She is sly and observant, easily detailing moments of humanity that unite us all. In the single “Scott Street” she sings, “I asked you ‘How is playing drums?’ You said, ‘It’s too much shit to carry.’”
Bridgers’ music is focused on emotion and tone more than technical prowess, and the best moments are the stripped down beats where her mighty voice belts out literal lyrics about the world in which she lives. “I’m not good at introducing songs and talking about them before I play them,” she says, “Because I’m like, ‘this is a song about getting my heart broken’ then I sing, ‘You broke my heart.’”
The performance is a stark contrast to the polished presentation of her debut album, Stranger in the Alps, where it seemed as if the effort to properly present her overshadowed her natural charm. But on stage Bridgers has a poetic ability to walk a tightrope between unfiltered truth and satirical fantasy, detailing moments with old lovers right alongside images of destruction and violence. It is all delivered through the medium of her unimposing presence and her powerful, undeniable voice.
The band members are all competent players who effortlessly fill their roles and only really stretch their legs during the semi-ironic cover of Sheryl Crow’s “If It Makes You Happy.” Bridgers calls the song a “guilty pleasure” but then immediately recants. “But, I guess I don’t really believe in that.”
It’s almost strange to hear Bridgers adjust her voice to cover the likes of Crow or Tom Petty’s “It’ll All Work Out.” She is one of those rare talents that seems immediately comfortable rubbing shoulders with her heroes. Watching her is like remembering, after a long absence, what rock and roll sounded like. It was an outlet for pain, a coping mechanism against convention, aided by a raised middle finger, progressive style, and a charming smile. Phoebe Bridgers has it. She is Bowie. She is Joan. She is Ozzy. She is Mick (take your pick). And it’s good to see her again, maybe one last time.