Phoebe Bridgers with Daddy Issues at Gothic Theatre – April 6th, 2018
I entered the Gothic Theatre as the opening band, Daddy Issues, was reaching the end of their set. The stage was hazey, and the lights were bright pink and blue, while the all-girl-trio rocked out to one of their songs, “Creepy Girl,” off their first album, Can We Still Hang. The drummer wore a babydoll shirt, while the bassist tossed around her long black hair and the lead singer/guitarist calmly approached the microphone. Despite the calm stage presence, Daddy Issues’ performance was full of powerful guitar riffs paired with mysterious, raw vocals. Their sound could easily be compared to a girl version of Nirvana, especially in their song, “Dog Years.” They closed with a punk rock/grunge infused cover of Don Henley’s 1984 hit, “Boys of Summer,” which was included in their newest album, Deep Dream. The song had a certain energy over the crowd, as we all collectively tapped our feet and sang along. Their last few songs made me wish that I had showed up earlier to see the whole set, but I’ll be sure to not make that mistake again. This girl powered grunge pop band is definitely one to look out for.
As Daddy Issues left the stage, the anticipation to see Phoebe Bridgers grew. Purple haze filled the stage as more light was added by the crew setting up small string lights on the microphone, keyboard, and drums adorned with her name in a typeface reminiscent of an 80’s hair metal band. I looked up at the giant banner hung on the wall, which had part of her album cover on it depicting her grandma and grandpa’s late dog, Bud. It seemed like an odd choice for a banner, but also very fitting to the scene. After the band came out for sound checks, everything was ready to go, as we all waited patiently for Phoebe.
Phoebe emerged from the haze, wearing a black velvet jumpsuit, which seemed to be a staple in her wardrobe. Her silver hair and eyeliner to match, glimmered under the pink lights on the stage as she began to play the first song off her latest and only album, Stranger In the Alps, the song entitled “Smoke Signals.” She sported a modest-looking acoustic guitar as her ghostly vocals filled the space, and left everyone in awe of her talent. Seeing her perform this song took me back to the first time I heard it, and how entranced I was; I had just discovered an artist that I could relate to and also learn from. Her heartache was prominent on stage, as she spilled her guts for everyone to see. The smooth bass from the tall, red-headed bassist, Anna Butterss was also something to be commended. Her whole band was dressed in black and white suits with ties and Doc Martins to match. As they moved into “Funeral,” the lights shifted to a bright blue color, which made Bridgers look as though she was glowing under a rich ultraviolet light. This song started with scratchy guitars, then went into a sad tune about a boy a year older than Bridgers, passed away and recalling how even though she had to sing at his funeral the next day, she still felt bad for herself. Many have described the sound of it as country emo, which sounds like an awful idea, but actually works for Bridgers. The song is less about the boy who passed away, and more about how, although she doesn’t want to feel this way, she pities herself, “last night I blacked out in my car, and I woke up in my childhood bed; wishing I was someone else, feeling sorry for myself, when I remembered someone’s kid is dead.” After two emotional songs in a row, Bridgers took a break to talk to us a little. Her regular voice differs from her singing voice in the sense that it’s much deeper and dry, in the best way possible. She tells us all “thanks for coming to see me instead of hiding in your house like I would because it’s f***ing cold,” seeing as though it had just snowed in Denver that day.
The band immediately jumped into “Georgia,” which had a lot more energy than I was expecting, especially because the original recording is so mellow. The lights were bright red and purple, very well suiting for the emotional, powerful ballad. Bridgers’ harmonization with Butterss was elegant and beautiful. Both the lights and Bridgers’ voice seemed to explode towards the end of the song when she hit the crazy note accompanying the lyrics “watch me fall.” A surge of power overtook the stage as both Bridgers and the band got louder. I felt like I was in a hypnotic trance because I could not look away from what was happening on stage.
The song eventually calmed down, and Bridgers introduced us to Harrison Whitford, her guitarist who recently put out a new album entitled Afraid of Everything, which Phoebe is featured on. He pulled out his lap steel guitar, and they started playing “Would You Rather,” a song Phoebe wrote about her brother. Admittedly, I was not a big fan of this song as it is on the album, however, it was much better live. Afterwards, Bridgers pulled out her black, sparkly baritone electric guitar and awkwardly stated, “this song is about drugs…that I did not do… somebody else did them,” then dived into “Chelsea,” as the lyrics “so long prison boy” rang out into the audience. It was at this point that a large light green projection of a ghost appeared on the banner.
After “Chelsea,” Bridgers quickly and blatantly set up the next song by saying “this one’s about sexting,” which I immediately knew would mean the song “Demi Moore” was up next. Her vocals were almost eerie as they glided through the lyrics. As Bridgers went backstage after the song, we all assumed she was grabbing another instrument, but to our surprise, she came back with nothing in her hands.
She stood on the stage, vulnerable as can be, as she began to sing “Killer.” The song is one of the darkest on the album, discussing how she is similar to the famous serial killer, Jeffrey Dahmer, in the sense that she fears abandonment and is afraid of what destructive routes she may take to keep the ones she loves around. While Dahmer’s route is not the one she plans, or ever sees herself taking, she still discusses how committed she is to keeping people around. Bridgers’ gentle hand motions and flawless vocals kept the narrative moving forward, and her vulnerability helped it progress as well. As Bridgers grabbed her acoustic guitar again, the entire band left the stage, leaving Bridgers completely alone to perform an older song off of her EP, Killer, entitled “Steamroller.” To preface the next song, Bridgers announced “this one’s sad too, the only difference is that I didn’t write this one.” She then begun to tune her baritone guitar, and made the audience laugh as she described how tuning it lower makes everything sound “extremely emo.” The crowd cheered as she began to play “It’ll All Work Out” by Tom Petty. It was perfectly suited for her voice, and she did an incredible job capturing the raw emotion of the song.
The band came back out for what Phoebe described as an “angry song about Ryan Adams,” fellow musician and founder of Pax-Am Records. Adams has played a major role in Bridgers’ music career, helping her record her first EP in 2015. The band ramped into “Motion Sickness” with a fierce amount of energy, and Phoebe got a huge round of applause as she held an elongated note in the middle of the song. This song had everyone dancing and bobbing their heads to the music, the energy seemed to contagious.
Phoebe then thanked us all again for coming out to see her, then announced that “Scott Street” would be her last song. This was a song that I also have way more appreciation for live, mostly because of its energy on stage. While singing about asking a friend of hers how playing drums is; his response was “it’s too much sh*t to carry,” the crowd erupted into a loud chorus of applause. Midway through the song, two large black balloons were tossed into the audience as lights that resembled stars appeared on them. The crowd became entranced by the diversion, while one hilariously ended up by Phoebe on stage, looking like an extra member of the band. Towards the end of the song, a balloon hit Bridgers in the face which only took her back minorly, as she tossed it back to the audience and laughed. Shortly after that, both balloons popped.
After leaving the stage, with much encouragement, Phoebe and the band came back out for an encore. Bridgers performed perhaps the most vulnerable, and longest song on the album, “Missed My Heart.” The only way to describe it was a poetic journey that captivated the whole audience. The venue fell silent as Bridgers, vocally accompanied by her drummer, Marshall Vore, sang. Bridgers was so emotional that halfway through the song, she had to sit down and close her eyes while singing. She immediately got up afterwards and said “I’m not gonna leave you hanging like that!” and jumped into the actual last song of the show, a vibrant rendition of Sheryl Crow’s “If It Makes You Happy,” which -no offense, Sheryl- I liked it far more than the original. The whole crowd was still singing and dancing as Bridgers flashed a peace sign and left the stage.