Recap: Two Nights of Cathartic Campfire Singalongs with Phoebe Bridgers and Friends at the Greek Theatre in LA

Adrian GarroCategories:Latest News

Rock Cellar Magazine

“Some of my songs are about having depression. Some of my songs are about having depression on tour. And most of my songs are about having depression in Los Angeles.” To hear the rapturous shrieks that followed this statement from Phoebe Bridgers at the Greek Theatre in Los Angeles this past weekend is to understand the emotional connection so many of her fans have with the singer/songwriter.

Bridgers and her excellent backing band stopped by the Greek for some hometown shows to effectively wrap up their “Reunion Tour,” the rescheduled outing that hit major cities across North America and was largely sold out, feverish interest spawned by the June 2020 release of Punisher, Bridgers’ breakout second studio album.

Those comments about depression being the creative spark from which Bridgers crafts much of her music wouldn’t normally be the type to inspire excited cheers — but that very bond between artist and fan has helped make the 27-year-old one of the biggest musical sensations in recent memory. Punisher, an achingly personal and deeply affecting record of hushed neo-folk/indie from Bridgers and her colleagues (an expanded assortment of musicians including Conor Oberst from Bright Eyes, Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus and more), hit in the summer of 2020 just a few short months after the pandemic threw a pause to our collective way of life.


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Her music, her social media presence and her frequent visual aesthetic — which began as a simple skeleton suit/pajamas before morphing into more fashionable versions thanks to collaborations with Gucci and other luxury brands — strengthened that connection with fans on a significant level, so much so that it seemed like four out of every 10 people at the Greek Theatre were wearing skeleton pajamas or a skeleton suit-inspired outfit.

These weren’t just concerts, they were events, fan conventions that packed the theatre’s three merchandise stands for hours (literally, hours) before each show, attendees frothing at the chance to take home limited show posters and/or skeleton sweatpants with “PHOEBE BRIDGERS” emblazoned on the back.

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Punisher came out at an awkward time for everyone, and the raw emotions confronted and exorcised on the record added to its instant impact, further shining the spotlight on Bridgers. She was already on the scene thanks to her 2017 debut Stranger in the Alps, but Punisher and a handful of television/streaming performances around its release added to her allure and elevated her profile even higher among indie circles.

She wasn’t able to tour for the record until recently, of course, making this run of headlining dates all the more of a hot ticket. They also marked some of her biggest venues, exemplary of the increased attention given to her since Punisher hit — culminating in these two celebratory Greek Theatre shows.

The second the lights dimmed and Bridgers and her skeleton-suited band mates took the stage, the energy in the venue exploded. Now, Bridgers doesn’t really have a lengthy catalog of “rock songs” in her repertoire. Nonetheless, the opening notes of “Motion Sickness,” from Stranger in the Alps, was more than capable of starting things off with a bang, despite its pained lyrics of emotional manipulation inspired by her experiences with ex-boyfriend/producer, Ryan Adams:

I hate you for what you did
And I miss you like a little kid
I faked it every time
But that’s alright
I can hardly feel anything
I hardly feel anything at all

(Photo: Nicole Busch for Goldenvoice)

(Photo: Nicole Busch for Goldenvoice)

The communal, shared experience between artist and audience gave everything a sensation of group therapy, a mutual exchanging of emotional pain and catharsis through passionate vocal expression and melancholic enthusiasm. Put simply, the vibes were immaculate.

The set lists from both nights leaned more on Punisher than Stranger in the Alps, which made sense given that this was the first proper tour supporting Bridgers’ latest album. That also meant much of the songs performed were slower and more intimate, as Punisher has a more deliberate approach, tempo-wise, than its predecessor. A video screen backdrop accompanied many of the songs, visuals matching up with the songs’ subject matter (ghosts, aliens and the like were frequent inclusions, as they’re heavy themes of her music).

Given the lush confines of the Greek Theatre, nestled among green trees high up near Los Angeles’ Griffith Park, the ethereal nature of the performances gave the proceedings a feeling of being gathered together at a retreat in the hills, thousands of fans singing so loudly at some points that it was a marvel Bridgers’ vocals were audible and not drowned out by the excited masses.

Commanding the big Greek Theatre stage with an intimacy you’d normally expect at a tiny club, Bridgers introduced several songs with her trademark dry humor (“This one’s about crying at Whole Foods,” before “ICU,” for example), at one point inspiring a fan to scream loudly during a few seconds of silence, “YOU MAKE ME SAD!” — which, in this context, is probably the biggest compliment she could have received.

These hometown shows were also a chance for Bridgers to share the stage with some of her friends — which she did by welcoming special guest openers on both nights. First was Charlie Hickey, who opened Thursday’s gig with songs from his new EP Count the Stairs, before Friday night’s unannounced surprise acoustic performance from Matty Healy of The 1975.

This one was especially noteworthy for a few reasons. Firstly, Bridgers was supposed to provide main support for The 1975 on an arena tour that never happened because of the pandemic. Given her profile has risen exponentially in the time since that tour was in the works, such a pairing doesn’t seem likely anymore — so Healy turning up to play a few acoustic songs was a great way to make that combination happen, if in an entirely different setting.

Healy played a couple of new/unreleased songs and The 1975 tracks “Sex” and “Be My Mistake” before Bridgers came out to accompany him on “Jesus Christ 2005 God Bless America,” their song from The 1975’s 2020 album Notes on a Conditional Form:

Healy’s unannounced appearance was a definite treat for those in attendance early, and judging by the screams all over the venue, fans loved it.

Fully capturing the moment on this tour, Bridgers took to closing each night with “That Funny Feeling,” one of the standout songs from comedian/musician Bo Burnham’s runaway Netflix sensation, Bo Burnam: Inside, the one-man comedy/music film released in May 2021 that all but perfectly summed up our collective angst and mental fatigue caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and everything that went along with it.

She did the same at both Greek gigs, starting the song by herself on acoustic guitar before the full band accompanied her for an outro:

There were rumors/fan speculation that Burnham himself would show up at the Greek, either as an opening act or to accompany Bridgers on the song.

He didn’t wind up taking the stage, though he was in attendance on Friday night, and by all accounts thoroughly enjoyed watching her performance:

Kudos to Bridgers and her crew and band mates for tackling that particular song, a pitch-perfect cover choice indeed.

With this headlining tour finally in the books, what’s next for Bridgers remains to be seen. Ordinarily, one might assume work on a new record would be in progress, though the pandemic delays in the Punisher cycle pushed her promotional activities back accordingly. Whether new material is in the works yet remains to be seen.

She could very well head back out on the road in 2022 for more touring, depending on what’s in store. No matter her next moves, expect even bigger things from Phoebe Bridgers in the near future.

One of the biggest breakout stars of the pandemic era is ready for more, as evidenced by these triumphant hometown performances.

Photo: Nicole Busch for Goldenvoice

Photo: Nicole Busch for Goldenvoice

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