By: Zak Kolesar
The Basement is usually host to sold-out shows that swamp ticket sales regardless of genre. For blissful vocalist and charming guitarist Phoebe Bridgers, the tone of the underground venue didn’t match her aesthetic showcase. While Nashville grunge-rockers Daddy Issues came with a raucous sound that broke down the venue’s doors, Bridgers soothed the audience into a melancholy evening.
My discovery of the sure-to-be-a-star Bridgers stemmed from a near 1,000-mile trek westward.
Last November I made a trip from Columbus to St. Louis, St. Louis to Columbus in 15 hours to see an artist I had just discovered this past summer: Julien Baker.
Her Serta-soft melodies and atmospheric guitar looping blissfully guided me through a momentary lapse in my life. Baker’s sound was also the perfect backdrop for her raw, cutting lyrics; almost too true to be sung in such a fashion. Her tunes of forgetful nights, troubling medications and her take on modern depression were both honest and cerebral.
The trip to see her was well worth it, but of course exhaustive on the mind, body and automobile. That's why I think the universe rewarded me with a Phone Bridgers concert, taking place in my city and in my favorite Columbus underground venue.
Bridger’s swiftly sold-out performance came during a climatic rise of Bridgers’ own, coincidentally on the tails of Baker’s Late Night performance in January. She’s on a mission toward stardom as well, with a co-sign from Bright Eyes musician Conor Oberst that tangibly backs her as one of our generation's up-and-coming vocalists.
Before a local crowd—packed in well before the openers—Bridgers performance seemed more dear to my heart than Baker’s.
Before that, though, fans of Bridgers were treated to Daddy Issues, a heavy rock outfit matched with mellow vocals that surely warmed up The Basement; that is, if it wasn’t warm enough on this particular 80-degree Friday the 13th. Just after 7:30 p.m., a band of dark-clothed ladies filled the stage to shred the personas off of their outfits for 40 minutes.
Most of the set contained in-your-face instrumentals and drum fills mixed with amicable lyrics and banter with the audience. Some highlights of Daddy Issues’ set included the more toned down “I’m Not” and a duet named “Locked Out” that talented vocalist Jenna Moynihan performed with Bridgers’ tourmate Harrison.
Just after 8:30, Bridgers five-piece—consisting of a bassist, drummer, bass guitar and backup guitar/mandolin—took the stage dressed in “sorta goth” threads, with the lead of this brigade greeting The Basement with a solemn, “Yo.”
Getting things into gear from the jump with one of her most popular songs, “Smoke Signals,” what attracts a lot of listeners’ to Bridgers’ gloomy, spooky songs are her honest, biting lyrics. When she belted out, “And all of our problems, I’m gonna solve ‘em/ With you riding shot-gun, speeding, ‘cause fuck the cops,” you were almost transported to that moment in time. On the same song she became more poetic in her prose, declaring, “I buried a hatchet/ It’s coming up lavender/ The future’s unwritten/ The past is a corridor.”
Moments, such as the one explained before “Smoke Signals,” were shared before almost every song. Each track has a deep synthesis that is just clearly enough spelled out, but just cryptic enough. Bridgers’ friendship with Baker started to shine through after her performance of “Georgia,” when a “Rejoice”-esque crescendo broke through the audience, signaled through a blast of applause.
Beside her hysterical anecdotes of recently playing a gig at her brother’s cafeteria during rib night and writing a song about a Sid Vicious picture, what Bridgers’ did during her performance that not many young artists can nail down right away is create a cohesive environment. With her 2017 release Stranger in the Alps, all of the tracks were able to guide the audience through multiple songs that seemed like one long journey.
At one point, Bridgers broke off from her album to pay the late Tom Petty a tribute with a chilling performance of “It’ll All Work Out.” As she guided the audience with her $200 black metallic sparkling guitar, her cover once again captured the essence of her calming therapy through music.
Bridgers’ most emotional performance came before delivering an anecdote on noted singer-songwriter Ryan Adams and his twisted ways of manipulating female artists. Unknowingly to Bridgers, Adams requested a picture of Bridgers prior to being drawn into her hypnotic voice and presence and recording her 2015 EP Killer. The case is sad and all too common, but Bridgers actively using her voice at concerts is one of the best ways to spread awareness and end harassment.
Although this track was more upbeat instead of dreamy, the lyrics, “I hate you for what you did,” onslaught a crowd ready to dive into “Motion Sickness.” She ends the track bitingly, swearing to Adams, “And I want to know what would happen/ If I surrender to the sound,” as she echoed away around 9:30.
Of course an audience applauded until she came back for an encore, which went past her 9:40 set closure.
“There’s a lot going on in this fucking town so it really means a lot you guys came out,” Bridgers said.
While the members of Daddy Issues joined Bridgers for the encore, the Los Angeles singer brought up the fact that her Apple Music suggestions led her to Daddy Issues. Much like Baker led me to Bridgers. That's why I was standing in a 90-degree basement on a Friday night with Anderson East bumping above us over ethereal tunes.
It was like getting Lana Del Rey in a basement. For about $10. Phoebe Bridgers may have been the steal of the night.