Phoebe BridgersI Love Live Events @ Leaf 22/5/18
PHOEBE BRIDGERS’ Stranger In The Alps, released back September 2017, was a beautiful, pained and delicate representation of love and loss. It landed in many people’s albums of the year lists and Bridgers was tipped by many as the next singer-songwriter giant to come out of the States, admired by critics and musicians alike. As a result there is a sense of anticipation about this opportunity to see an artist at the beginning of their ascent.
The gentle glow from the loosely draped fairy lights around Leaf’s stage offer a contrast to Bridgers’ and her band’s black attire. Aided by a violinist and her regular touring companions, Marshall Vore on drums and Harrison Whitford on guitar, Bridgers appears muted and refrained as she softly plucks the first notes of the airy, captivatingly sombre Smoke Signals on her acoustic guitar. A deathly silence falls over the crowd, something I’ve not heard for a while at a Liverpool show; all ears are drawn in by her light, enchanting vocals and eyes are transfixed on the stage. The solemn air continues with Bridgers’ next track, Funeral, of which the first line painfully cuts in with “I’m singing at funeral tomorrow/For a kid a year older than me”. The song swells with a deep intensity, in parts inflated by a delicate violin and strained distorted guitar notes as her lyrics build to challenge different perspectives on loneliness and self-pity.
Bridgers then breaks the silence, easing the atmosphere considerably, as she describes an unfortunate encounter with an overzealous tap in the venue’s bathroom. “During that whole song I couldn’t stop thinking about how wet my face was.” From here on in, she appears bright and couldn’t be any further removed from the character that she portrays in her songs; she’s able to convey the bitterness of loneliness while evoking an aura that is far removed from isolation and solitude. Her songs are a confession of guilty obsessions and troubling thoughts, but she ties them together with a delicate charm and an endearing humour.
Motion Sickness, the most popular single from the album, brings with it the most poignant moment of the night. Bridgers prefaces the song by telling us that it’s about a past idol that she now “hates”. It is perhaps the best example of her vocal strength, too; she regularly displays a breathy falsetto, demonstrating a gentle range with seamless control, but on Motion Sickness it takes on another quality. The end of the song rises to a breaking crescendo, as her voice and the band ascend to an explosive release of energy and emotion.
Her demanding touring schedule over the last 18 months is fully reflected in the strength of her live performance. It’s not uncommon to witness breakthrough acts offer a disappointing live display on their first headline tour, but everything Bridgers brings tonight adds to the growing consensus that she has all the components to sit comfortably in the ranks of the great American singer-songwriters.