In April 2016, Phoebe Bridgers performed at Lincoln Hall supporting Julien Baker. In April 2018, she returned as the headlining artist, selling out the show. I can’t think of a better example of an artist’s growth than that. Bridgers is probably one of the biggest small artists you’ve never heard of: Ryan Adams produced her debut EP and signed her to his record label, PAX AM – a label that has also released music from Jenny Lewis and even Fall Out Boy.
Bridgers is now signed to Dead Oceans – an independent record label based in Bloomington, Indiana and Austin, Texas. Labelmates include Alex Lahey, Japanese Breakfast and Mitski, to name a few artists creating music in similar genres to Bridgers’.
Her debut album, Stranger In The Alps, was released on September 22, 2017 – focusing on the emotions centered around relationships and intimacy. Oh, and it’s extremely sad. Not only does the album tackle universal issues like failed relationships and being in love with a person who is, well, an ass-hole, the album also addresses heavier topics of discussion like death and murder. A lot to cover on a debut album, but she makes it work.
I’m not going to lie – I felt a bit uneasy walking into Lincoln Hall last Wednesday, damp from the sleet that had been covering the sidewalk and my head as I walked nearly a mile to get to the venue in Lincoln Park. The weather was definitely setting the scene for the music that I would be hearing later that night – sad, loaded and gloomy. I knew what I was getting myself into – but the weather giving me a metaphor for the show I was about to see just seemed a little too spot on.
The crowd was made up of exactly who you would expect – a bunch of white guys in beanies and beards drinking beer – and a lot of girls who looked like me. This isn’t really meant to be a dig – just a way to set the scene. It seemed like the perfect show to go to alone and not feel weird about it – because that’s something I’m still trying to get over. Any advice on how to combat feeling awkward going to a show alone? Let me know in a comment.
Bridgers opened the set with “Smoke Signals” – a song that also starts the beginning of Stranger In The Alps. Upon recent research, I discovered that Bridgers’ album is highly inspired by one person – her ex-boyfriend who also cowrites and performs a lot of her music with her. I thought this was interesting. The next song performed is arguably her saddest – “Funeral” covers the death of a friend who had overdosed on heroin. Death is clearly a theme throughout the album – and Bridgers says the concept of death is one that consumes her thoughts.
“I do think about dying a lot. I feel like a lot of my friends, especially artists, are consumed with this idea of the inevitability of death”
This theme was explored further in songs like “Killer” – a song that hints at Bridgers’ fascination with serial killers – she even says “Dahmer” in the song. The closing track on the album, “You Missed My Heart,” also tells the story of a murder – the track a cover originally recorded by Mark Kozelek and Jimmy LaValle. This song wrapped up the album in a neat little bow of cohesion. Bridgers seemed to like this concept and left the song second to last on her setlist.
My favorite moments from the performance included hearing “Demi Moore,” a song about the initial butterflies that stir in a budding relationship, and the performance of her song “Motion Sickness” – one of the first songs I heard by her and completely captivated me. The clash of feelings that comes with a relationship – loving someone who’s completely wrong for you and ignoring it – felt so relatable and universally understood by people who have had falling outs in relationships – including failed platonic ones. It is one of the more upbeat songs on the album – those are rare – and it seemed to perk up the audience.
Of course, this came after Bridgers performed a cover of Tom Petty’s song “It’ll All Work Out,” which she prefaced as his saddest song (in her opinion), joking that she was going to lighten up the mood of the event. The cover was beautiful, and it really was heartwrenching. Seemed as though it absolutely could have been her own song.
Overall, I found the show to have an interesting balance. I felt as though despite the the inherently depressing nature of these songs, it felt like a giant therapy session and felt very cathartic. I hadn’t felt that sort of atmosphere since I saw Lorde’s Melodrama show last month. To sum it up, I very much enjoyed the show and didn’t leave feeling sadder than I did when I walked in, I felt refreshed. I usually don’t go to a lot of live shows where almost all of the music is slow (and sad), but I really enjoyed it and would definitely recommend not only her music but I am going to start considering attending more shows in this genre.
Phoebe will be performing a few more headlining shows then will be performing a couple with Sylvan Esso and The National. Click here to see her list of tour dates.
Click here to see my other show reviews.
April 28 – Yoke Lore & Frenship
May 11 – Sunflower Bean
June 1 – Taylor Swift
June 2 – Taylor Swift
June 3 – Bon Iver
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