Phoebe Bridgers haunts me. Her songs tell tales like a series of sad Polaroids strung together. It’s a dose of reality heavy enough to legitimately scare the wits out of you. Delivered with precision and delicacy, the dead calm in her songs also conjures hair-raising moments in her live performances. Never mind that she usually plays in a jet black dress that is worn over a near-transparent complexion, all whilst touring a breakout album that has a spooky ghost on its cover.
Phoebe Bridgers appeared live at the Natural History Museum as part of their wintertime First Fridays series, surrounded by a room full of dead animals. While the lifeless creatures stood still in well-lit diorama scenes, Bridgers opening set stayed the steady course of 2017 LP, Stranger in the Alps – the eight songs in her abbreviated set carried the weight of a delicate thud.
The aptly-named Rob Moose (violin), and local whiz kid producer Ethan Gruska (keys) were Phoebe’s collaborators for the evening. As is usually the case at First Fridays, a chatty and upbeat weekend-ready crowd drowned things out towards the back of the room. But myriad textures came to life closer to the action. From Moose’s plucked violin and Gruska’s subtle ethereal sensibilities, to Bridgers’ own multidimensional vocal spectrum, many moments rang clear as a bell to those paying attention.
The trio took “Scott Street” for a walk early on. The song is about as close as Bridgers treads to euphoria, with a collective walk down that ushered in a heck of a tension and release moment towards the tune’s end. Rob Moose’s string contributions hinted at strains of southern rock, before Phoebe took over with some woo-hoo coo’ing.
An electronic, knob-turning cacophony from Gruska gave way to Bridgers’ stoic delivery of the brutally honest confessional of “Funeral.” More unexpected Dixie-flavored sounds snuck in to the wrenching piece, arguably the best cut off Stranger in the Alps.
Those who have seen Phoebe Bridgers perform over the past year or two may have been caught off guard by the execution of “Georgia.” Once (and perhaps still a little bit) timid, Bridgers can now sing with a newfound command, harnessing power from the depths of her vocal range. As the song kept growing bigger, her voice blossomed with similar gusto. The outro flaunted a masterful intertwining of violin and Phoebe’s confident vocal projection.
Standing perfectly upright, Bridgers sang “Killer” sans guitar, and with her hands held together behind her back. From there, she quietly fell to her knees to tune her guitar, while Gruska and Moose gently volleyed an earthy, ad hoc jam back and forth. This led in to the finale of “Motion Sickness,” and yet another glowing example of Phoebe Bridgers’ less-is-more approach to her art.
Discovered mid-set was a bit of indie rock’s own natural history. Leaning against the wall, engrossed in the performance of one of his de facto protégés, was none other than Bright Eyes himself. He did not come forth to provide vocals on “Would You Rather,” as he did on the album. Instead, Conor Oberst opted to hang quietly to the side of the room, taking a place between other taxidermied creatures of the past, like some sort of diorama of 2005.
Would You Rather