Phoebe Bridgers performs sold out show in BirminghamBy Ellen Johnson | 03/05/2018 11:58pm
Photo courtesy of Frank Ockenfels
The title of Phoebe Bridgers’ 2017 album, “Stranger in the Alps” is a stark contradiction to the record’s contents. The name is derived from a in the cult comedy film “The Big Lebowski,” a Coen brothers classic that rollicks and oozes with ridiculousness. Bridgers’ songs on the record, however, are anything but. Detailing stories of house fires and friends’ funerals and family drama, “Stranger in the Alps” packs a lot of emotional punch into just 44 minutes, especially considering the indie folk singer is still spry at age 23. For someone so young, she writes lyrics that, while especially sad, come across as clever and droll. This invitation of blue yet inventive music beckoned listeners to her sold-out show on Monday night at The Syndicate Lounge in Birmingham.
Not only is “Stranger in the Alps” a contrariety, it’s a smash. Music from the record landed on several year-end lists, including NPR Music’s 100 Best Songs of 2017.
“The coolest part about it to me was seeing myself on a list with other records that I loved this year or last year,” Bridgers said in an interview with the Crimson White. “The same with playing festivals, seeing your name next to other bands I love so much and have loved for a long time. It makes me feel really weird and cool.”
Bridgers has also caught the ears of several notable musicians: Ryan Adams her to Bob Dylan; John Mayer that she’s “phenomenal.” A Dylan comparison is a lot of pressure, but the idea that Bridgers is headed for lyricist stardom isn’t totally left-field. Her references to literature and pop culture intermingled with personal anecdotes bring to mind the talents of great songwriters past.
“I think pretty much everything I've ever read or watched lends itself in some way to songwriting,” Bridgers said. “One time I feel like I wrote a really really sad song about ‘Breaking Bad’ once.”
It’s unclear if the “Breaking Bad” reference made it into Monday’s show, but Bridgers did sing a plot-based ditty in the encore: “You Missed My Heart,” a winding tale about a jealous lover turned murderer. It sounded a lot like a modern folktale. She opened with “Smoke Signals” and also covered the Tom Petty song “It’ll All Work Out.”
The crowd was particularly quiet during most of the show, save for energetic applause and a collective “Happy Birthday” sung to the band’s touring manager. The silence can perhaps be traced to the chill aura of the venue, but more likely it’s a result of Bridgers’ performance. Much like the album name paired with its content, the show was a juxtaposition – the music was fantastically bleak, cryptic at times; Bridgers’ commentary, wry and hilarious. She toggled between smug narration and her haunting alt-folk ballads, resulting in a compelling live show.
Prior to the encore, Bridgers called upon the Dead Fingers, who in addition to Soccer Mommy played an opening set, to join her for one song on stage.
“You’re my favorite band,” she said as she ushered the Birmingham-based duo on stage.
Bridgers’ camaraderie with musicians doesn’t stop when she steps off the stage or out of the studio. She has notably collaborated with musicians like Conor Oberst and Ryan Adams, who produced her first record. Having musical friendships is important, Bridgers said.
“Surrounding yourself by people you respect and hopefully they respect you in the same way is really important just as far as like quality control,” Bridgers said. “I feel like I only show ideas to people I really really think are talented and great and committed to music. I think pretty much all my friends are musicians.”
With the #TimesUp and #MeToo movements sweeping various sects of entertainment, Bridgers is also speaking up for women in the music industry, emphasizing the importance of challenging anything that could deter young women and girls from breaking into music.
“What I’m more concerned with is meeting younger women and just making sure that they know that if the sound guy is being a dick to you, he doesn’t get to do that,” she said. “You can just call him out and you can yell from the stage. Dude musicians do that all the time. You just need to like relax. You’ll feel like you’re stepping over a boundary, you’ll feel weird for a second, but then you’re like ‘Wait why was that guy mean? He doesn’t get to be.’”
Bridgers is hopeful that cases of stereotypes and prejudices against women in music are slowing to a crawl.
“I always say this to my dude friends when I’m trying to get them to understand why it’s harder as a woman in music: it’s like, imagine being a 12-year-old girl going into Guitar Center, and asking to like play something, just even a dirty look can deter you,” she said. “Or as you see 12-year-old boys and they’re shredding all day. I feel like at every step there’s a little or small obstacle that could have stopped so many girls from playing that we’ll never hear because they didn’t feel comfortable asking for drum lessons or whatever it is. So I feel like those are getting fewer, thank God.”