20th August | Thekla
Photos: Jessica Bartolini
Understated and flawless, Phoebe Bridgers walks on stage, almost an echo of an elfin white witch, dressed in casual attire, high-rise denim, velvet blazer, boots and a t-shirt bearing the words Suck My Dick. It is this contradiction, of sorts, that sets her apart – and just as she carries herself with grace, she lets the words spill from her lips as untamed as a waterfall, as brave as she is coy. To describe her as a pint-sized pixie, with a voice of a fallen angel would appear vague, but it seems fitting, and so, let’s get on with the show.
Following an emotionally-deft performance from Harrison Whitford (who earlier this year released his debut record, Afraid of Everything) reminiscent of early Lowgold combined with the otherworldly tones of Anohni, the Thekla audience were already primed for a somewhat celestial experience, with the energy palpable, the vibrations simultaneously rising and falling like tides drawn in by a silver moon. Something about Ms Bridgers can make you break into tiny shards of glass, her voice radiating like smoke inside a snow globe. And the most beautiful thing? She is just being herself.
Effortlessly moving through a set list that seems to be thoughtfully stitched together with equal parts numb apathy coupled with intense honesty, this is where Phoebe’s talent truly lies: the ability she has to invest in each word and guitar chord with drenched despair and complete, impossible vulnerability. Yet, at the same time, she faces the darkness with a courage and reverence that hovers between self-assurance and healthy disregard for reactions (a clue that she really does lose herself within the music).
The set opens with the somewhat subdued ‘Smoke Signals’, taken from debut LP, Stranger in the Alps, a song that seems to be etched in scars from invisible histories we’ll never fully understand. Yet, the privilege of witnessing this gig gives us a snapshot into the sparks that would collide with the universe to create the music we now associate with this unique and fierce artist.
Gillian Welch’s ‘Everything is Free’ was penned about the rife topic of music streaming (and ultimately, stealing) – reducing music to having less value than a dollar-priced hamburger – the opposite sort of creative pricelessness from what Phoebe Bridgers has always had down to a fine art, even as a thirteen-year-old. But then, growing up with musical input from the likes of Neil Young, Joni Mitchell and Elliott Smith, it’s unsurprising that this innate synchronicity exists within this brilliant songwriter. Seconds before the band starts up with this song, Phoebe adds: “If there’s something that you want to hear, fucking sing it yourself.” In other words, don’t be fooled. Rise above and create the music you believe in. And someone’s bound to get a pretty song out of it.
And she certainly does.
The set culminates with ‘Scott Street’. That crescendo which never fails to send shivers up the spine, the rousing strings, and the smile across Phoebe’s face as she closes her eyes is proof alone that this is someone who truly is wrapped up in the music. And there is no better place to exist.
Lucky to be there, the audience did not take this for granted, especially when Phoebe and the band return for an encore. Straight into a rendition of Mark Kozelek’s original, ‘You Missed My Heart’, the mood feels sombre and heartbreaking, before Phoebe brings Lucy Dacus on stage for a contrastingly upbeat performance of ‘Me and My Dog’.
Intent listening turns to gracious applause, and in this room, in this space, on this boat, between the salt air and the tides, this place is where the butterflies dance and collide.