Photos by Neil Van.
One part morbid, one part milk-fed, and filled to the brim with deliciously brazen obscenities. The recipe that is Phoebe Bridgers does more than pinch a nerve: it punches you in the gut until you can’t help but belly laugh.
You might know the prodigal LA singer songwriter from her who’s who of critical acclaim. She has toured with and been praised by the likes of Connor Oberst, Julien Baker, Bon Iver and Ryan Adams, having recorded and released through the latter’s label, PAX AM. Although Adams compares her to Bob Dylan, Bridgers made it clear Wednesday night at a sold out Velvet Underground that she sees through Dylan’s shit (ahem, his Victoria’s Secret commercial). He’s her hero all the same and the comparison between them is without question.
This tour is promoting her debut album Stranger in the Alps. Backed by a perfectly proportioned ensemble, Bridgers unloaded each song from the album slow and smooth like a steamroller. And when she actually did play “Steamroller,” a sensationally somber cut from her EP Killer, the audience practically bowed in appreciation. Standing at a microphone wrapped in Christmas lights, petite and poised, blonde hair slicked back, Bridgers exuded a sense of natural omniscience. From “Georgia” – a young love song self-categorized as “folk-core” – to “Motion Sickness” – her token dance track written about “a grown adult who won’t go down on anyone” – Bridgers weaved her way through an expertly crafted and sweetly sung catalogue.
Much like her associated artists, Bridgers could be considered a poet first, musician second. Her songs are all stories at once untold and universally known, with lyrical choices that fly out of left field and land hard in the back of your throat. In the first line of “Funeral,” Bridgers tells her listener that she’s singing at a funeral tomorrow for a kid just one year older than her. “Jesus Christ, I’m so blue all the time,” she croons in the refrain. “And that’s just how I feel. Always have and I always will.”
Sad? Sure. But the ambiance in the crowd felt anything but depressed. In her outright allusions to mental illness and anguish, Bridgers’ material became almost comedic. From the back of the house to the stage, the energy in the crowded room felt as if it could erupt at any moment into simultaneous sobbing and fits of laughter.
The sentiment of her set was echoed impeccably in her closing song, admittedly a “guilty pleasure”: Sheryl Crow’s “If It Makes You Happy.” So why the hell are you so sad?