3rd March | Rough Trade
Photos: Rowan Allen
Phoebe Bridgers has travelled just under 3,700 miles in under 18 hours to play tonight at Rough Trade. She admits, alongside her band, that they “feel like they are on a come down, just without having had the high,” which receives a hearty, empathic laugh from the sold-out crowd that have bustled into probably the most compact performance space we’ll ever see Phoebe in. It’s emblematic of the tremendous rush that Bridgers must be living within. As she reaches out to an ever-growing audience that’s connecting with her music, she’s hurtling through a disorientating blur of glaring city lights, taking journeys across state lines and through various postcodes.
Stranger In The Alps, Bridgers’ first full-length, is a deeply personal record. Filled with well defined etches of memory, in particular of relationships whether romantically inclined or familial, Bridgers has this deep-rooted ability to eloquently and quite stoutly express the finer conversations of the past in impervious detail, and draw sentiment that’s impressively identifiable within the bigger picture. So as Phoebe delivers such a cathartic and inclusive set, her music live is even more responsive and cleansing. The realisation that one of the most engaging and undisguised songwriters in recent times can seize such stark solitude live is overwhelming in a beautifully comforting way.
Taking to the stage as a three-piece, from the immediate opening of ‘Smoke Signals,’ it’s evident that live, Bridgers’ music delves into a darker and naturally raw form. The aforementioned opener lingers at a more leisurely pace. Bridgers performs with only radiant lights wrapped around her mic stand, an arrangement that couldn’t be more fitting to make you feel like the only other person in the room. Playing at this point with an acoustic guitar, a lap steel guitar and violin, the arrangements feel unconstrained, the violin in particular ringing deeply as each track rises to its conclusion.
Bridgers embraces the crowd regularly, unveiling small anecdotes about the songs with a sense of humour and real sincerity, ‘Would You Rather’, a song written for her brother and collaborated on vocally with her guitarist, resonates even more for Bridgers’ openness, the lucidity of her lyricism demonstrative as violin and reverberating guitar again envelopes the room. The deliberately unhurried pace throughout the whole set also allows Bridgers’ to be at her most purposeful and eloquent, her utterly understated voice breaking the bare silence that the crowd are pleasingly gifting such a deserving performance.
What’s most impactful is the evident connection the band are sharing on stage. The way in which they delicately craft such emotion together is heart-rending, the three of them eagerly looking to one another with encouragement. It completely befits Bridgers’ music in the sense of protection she grants her listener, as she herself goes through heartbreaking experiences and life-altering moments and keenly explores them within her live performance. As ‘Motion Sickness’ rises to its crescendo, the band reach a breathtaking compromise, all the emotion that has rang through the whole set shattered in a single minute. All that is left is a sense of restoration that encompasses the room, and that’s the true power that Phoebe Bridgers possesses.