The universal catharsis of seeing Phoebe Bridgers at The Mann’s Skyline Stage
Somehow it’s possible for a sold-out headlining show to feel incredibly intimate as well as larger than life at the same time, and Phoebe Bridgers managed to capture that difficult duality last night when she and her band helmed The Mann’s Skyline Stage.
MUNA, also a new signee to Phoebe Bridgers’ record label, Saddest Factory, opened the evening with their hit, “Number 1 Fan,” a song rooted in obsession. After standing still for far too long, the crowd immediately gave in to their deep bass grooves and infectious pop riffs. They transitioned right into “Stayaway” and “Crying on the Bathroom Floor,” two heavier songs that showcased singer Katie Gavin’s dynamic vocal range.
Still, that didn’t mean the crowd slowed down with them. There was a constant flow of kinetic movement that pulsed through this cool but excitable crowd. “Everything” gave the band a chance to show off their musicality and play off of each other, and Josette Maskin, and Naomi McPherson are two true musicians who both hone their craft while also engaging with each other in a way that’s hypnotic to watch. They cooled down with “Taken,” their self-proclaimed country song about unrequited love, with Gavin leading the charge on acoustic guitar.
When Gavin said the band only had two songs left, there was a palpable moment of anticipation when they played the opening intro to their latest — and I’d even argue greatest — single, “Silk Chiffon.” It’s a powerhouse of a pop song, and Phoebe Bridgers came out to sing her verse just like she does on the recorded version. The excitement was truly intoxicating. They closed their set with “I Know a Place,” one of their breakout hits, and it was a breathtaking end. Whether you were a sixteen-year-old girl dancing in the pit or a twenty-something standing on the edges of the crowd, laidback and observant, you couldn’t help but shout those lyrics back.
To open the headlining set, Phoebe and her band walked on to the stage to The Black Eyed Peas’ “I Gotta Feeling,” and you could hear echoes of laughter through the crowd. Stoic the whole time, of course, she’s nothing if not a performer. She looked chic as ever in a black blazer, and her band was decked out in their skeleton jumpsuits (that I definitely want for myself). Without any introduction, the lights dimmed, the smoke rose, and she and her band opened with “Motion Sickness,” an undeniable crowd-pleaser. From there she rolled into “Garden Song” and “Kyoto,” two top tracks from Punisher. Both were understatedly beautiful and intense, and that was one thing I was wondering how she’d pull off. Her songs are delicate but still demand attention, and this was definitely more of a still crowd, but it wasn’t due to boredom or indifference. A Phoebe Bridgers set requires contemplation because everyone knows those gut-punching lyrics won’t leave nearly as much of a mark if they’re misheard.
The setlist was heavy on newer songs, with “Halloween,” “Chinese Satellite,” “Moon Song,” and “Savior Complex” commanding the stage, only broken up by “Smoke Signals,” which she played gorgeously with her lead guitarist Harrison Whitford. These tracks are so cinematic in a live setting, and her band did everything they could to make them sound as big as possible. The addition of a live horn section was the make-or-break moment for me — these songs would have underperformed without that. Even though Bridgers can hold down a stage with just herself and a guitar, everyone was here to listen to Phoebe Bridgers: Amplified.
There were a few moments where she did address the crowd, but for the most part, she was fully in the moment. I’d like to think she was giving WXPN a shout-out when she said, “You guys have really great radio here — we heard Lucy Dacus earlier.” Wink, wink. She also said this particular night was her biggest headlining show, and if that’s true, Philly will always take home that title. She wished one fan a happy birthday and then apologized that the next song was “the saddest,” which was “Funeral.”
Since she’d started talking to the crowd, fans took that as an opening to make requests. The most sought-after track, according to nearly everyone in the pit, was “Georgia,” off of Stranger in the Alps. If there’s ever a song about longing, it’s that one, and fans wanted it just as badly. Instead, she gave us a choice between that song and “Me and My Dog.” The latter won out without complaint, and she crooned about impossible views for a starstruck audience. She transformed “Graceland Too” into a banjo duet, and then transitioned into “I Know The End,” the show’s heaviest moment. We all held our breath, hoping she’d smash a guitar, but she didn’t, even though she knew she could have. The walk-off felt staged, as it always does, and Bridgers was back alone within seconds.
Most encores don’t really hit in the way the artist hopes they will because they’re completely anticipated, but this one did. Bridgers started quietly picking through the intro of a song that she admittedly thought she’d forgotten and then breathed through the most delicate version of “Georgia” I think I’ve ever heard. It was my take-home moment of the show. I would have been thrilled to have watched her play only this song. When she broke through the ending choruses, it was like a universal moment of catharsis that was holding the crowd together. We’d all been waiting for that break, and we didn’t realize it. Her final song of the night, one that I somehow forgot she’d been breaking out, was a cover of Bo Burnham’s “That Funny Feeling.” Though it’s a parodical song, she performed it in the most Phoebe Bridgers-way that you’d assume it was her own. She stripped it down to its bones and made the blunt, “things are really bad right now” lyrics hit you even harder. Her band crept back on stage as she ended the last verse and transitioned into a closing jam, which felt both happy and sad and out of place and just right all at the same time.
Me & My Dog
I Know The End
That Funny Feeling