Phoebe Bridgers - Antone’s, Austin

by Mark Moody Rating: Release Date:
Phoebe Bridgers - Antone’s, Austin
Phoebe Bridgers - Antone’s, Austin

To paraphrase a line from indie rock band Whitney, when you only have one album out you play the whole fucking thing.  And when your one album is as incredibly deep and affecting as Phoebe Bridgers’ (pictured above) Stranger in the Alps why wouldn’t you?  Bridgers in fact did play her entire album, a cover and an older track at sold out Antone’s night club in Austin, Texas last Saturday night.  At the beginning of what looks to be her longest headlining tour to date, she is already garnering sell outs at most locations and is opening two nights in London in early March for Bon Iver.  To say her star is rising is an understatement, but busking as a kid in L.A. to coming a bit out of nowhere last year and putting down a debut album that made many year end “best of” lists is an accomplishment that warrants attention.

Opening act, Nashville based Soccer Mommy (singer songwriter Sophie Allison (pictured right) and whoever she has in tow), played an engaging set of songs mainly from her upcoming full length debut, Clean, that’s out in March.  The new album has more of a straightforward sound, but here Allison and her band put more of the fluid jazzy guitar sound from last year’s Collection into play.  The best tracks from the new album included the already released 'Your Dog', the melodic 'Last Girl', and the played solo reverb of 'Still Clean'.  A highlight from Collection, 'Try', was given a full workout and her cover of Springsteen’s 'On Fire' was also well received.  And asking a Texas based crowd if she should stop at a What-A-Burger was a nice layup for positive audience feedback - and yes you should!

Taking the stage in a crushed black velvet jumpsuit looking every bit the calm, cool, collected West Coast troubadour, Phoebe Bridgers and her four piece band went directly to an expertly stretched out album opener ‘Smoke Signals’.  The song name checks Motörhead, Bowie, and the Smiths which is a bold move, but the song is so expertly constructed it works.  The nearly whispered line in reference to ‘How Soon Is Now’ - “that song will creep you out until you’re dead” particularly stood out and served as notice that many of her songs are mournful and nostalgic.  The subject matter of her songs bely her sunny disposition and witty asides - including introducing drummer and songwriting partner Marshall Vore as her “ex-boyfriend” - funny but also true and met of course by a "we'll be here all week" rim shot from Vore.  Matching the mood of many of her songs, there was hardly any stage lighting - a barely backlit stage with no spotlights and only a string of white Christmas lights wrapped on her mic stand - a photographer’s nightmare (apologies for grainy pics), but atmospheric and maybe a trick picked up from early fan Ryan Adams.

The next handful of songs included either lap steel or slide guitar at the hands of multi-instrumentalist Harrison Whitford, who also handled Conor Oberst’s vocal part on ‘Would You Rather’.  In the intro to ‘Georgia’, Bridgers described the song as “folkcore” and maybe that it was her genre.  No matter the tag, her songs and these renditions were absolutely nailed throughout.  Her voice ghostly sweet and vulnerable, but somehow conveying strength and wisdom as well.  Switching to electric guitar for ‘Chelsea’ she quipped she was going to play another song about death, but with a sparkly guitar this time.  

Bridgers stood at the mic for ‘Killer’ with lap steel, the synth set to piano, and Vore’s brushed drums and gorgeous harmony making this a mid-set standout and also clear message that Bridgers is in full command of her talent.  She played solo for the older ‘Steamroller’ and cover of Austin legend Daniel Johnston’s ‘Peek-A-Boo’, with its “save me from myself” chorus being also notably downcast but melodic.  With the band returning and ripping into ‘Motion Sickness’ full bore this song showed their range with Bridgers showing some little used or needed vocal power in the chorus.  The last song before the encore (my favorite of the night and the album as well), ‘Scott Street’ with its nostalgic theme of returning to a childhood neighborhood was a set piece for her and the song's co-writer, Vore, who again sang high harmony.  

The rapt audience was treated to a single song in the encore, with two fans at the stage front donning ghost costumes of the album's cover much to Bridgers’ delight.  The final song was an extended version of ‘You Missed My Heart’ where she sat for the last few verses of the song.  Bridgers and opener Allison came out and mingled with the crowd after the show, stood for pictures (yes I got one... or four with my daughter), and couldn’t have been more gracious both on and off the stage.  Though sold out the club only holds a few hundred, so suffice to say next time through all these mesmerized fans will be in attendance along with scores of others at a larger venue.  It seems a bit trite to sum up the complexity of Bridgers’ work as sad and beautiful, but her lyrics, voice and sympathetic accompaniment from her band beg for no better description.  Do yourself a favor and drag your friends and family to a show on this tour in the U.S., Canada or the U.K..  You may be catching her from high in the bleachers next time around.

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