Review: Phoebe Bridgers at Forest Hills Stadium

Bridgers is joined by guests MUNA and Lucy Dacus

By: Jun. 19, 2022

Review: Phoebe Bridgers at Forest Hills Stadium

As is often the case with my newfound favorite music, I discovered Phoebe Bridgers on one of my evening walks through my neighborhood. The sun was about to set and, although it was July, I was enjoying the mellow, whispery sounds of my "Fall is Fab" playlist. I had reached the end, and, as Spotify is apt to do, it kindly suggested a number of additional tracks with similar vibes, one of which was "Graceland Too" by Phoebe Bridgers. The song is beautiful and evocative, and showcases Bridgers' knack for conjuring imagery that's both commonplace and ethereal--in this case, an account of staring at the moon while on ecstasy and then eating a sleeve of saltines. I walked for another hour or so, listening to the entire Punisher album, entranced by the delicate ache of Bridgers' gossamer voice and her ability to convey the transient details of human longing with both poignancy and humor.

Bridgers brought all of this and more to her show at Forest Hills Stadium on Thursday, the third and final in a string of New York shows she played last week, and, as she revealed to the audience halfway through the set, her biggest venue to date. However, the size of the stadium was in no way an obstacle for Bridgers' brand of candid intimacy, and she skillfully harnessed the energy of the crowd and the uncharacteristic chill of the June night to create a space where we could all feel our feelings.

Opening with "Motion Sickness" from her debut album Stranger in the Alps, Bridgers starts the show on an upbeat note--or what qualifies as upbeat for her--before moving into Punisher territory with the eerie opening strains of the brief, wordless "DVD Menu." As the guitars whine from the stage, my friend and I chat with the pair of straight men sitting behind us. They are brothers who grew up in the same city as Bridgers (Pasadena), and while one admits to knowing nothing about her, the other says he is both a diehard Phoebe fan (phangirl?), and a self-proclaimed "sad boy." Throughout the night he fills us in on important Phoebe details and lore, such as her recent engagement to Irish actor Paul Mescal and the rumor that, apparently, she does not get along with her dad.

Following "DVD Menu" are the next four tracks from Punisher: "Garden Song," "Kyoto," "Punisher," and "Halloween." These are absolute gems, and provide a nice crash course in Phoebe Bridgers. "Kyoto" is upbeat and radio-friendly while still containing smart, piercingly funny lines such as "He said you called on his birthday/You were off by like ten days/But you get a few points for trying." In "Punisher" and "Halloween," the wistfulness of the melody perfectly mirrors the melancholy of Bridgers' self-examination, and provides the appropriate underscoring for lyrics like "Always surprised by what I do for love/Some things I never expect," and "What if I told you I feel like I know you/But we never met?" The latter is an address to Bridgers' musical hero Elliott Smith, whose influence is unmistakable in her work, both in the bleak yet beautiful musicality she exhibits on these slower tracks, as well as in her ability to reflect on pain while still searching for an escape from it.

Bridgers has to restart the next song twice due to a medical emergency in the audience, which she handles with efficiency and grace, requesting a medic and then making sure everyone has water. When the situation is resolved and "Smoke Signals" is finally able to continue, I am decimated (in the best way) by the song, the chorus of which contains some of Bridgers' most poetic imagery: "You/You must have been searching for me/Sending smoke signals/Pelicans circling/Burning trash out on the beach."

Next up is the folksy, tragic "Funeral," followed by "Chinese Satellite," another favorite of mine from Punisher. With lines like "I want to believe/Instead I look at the sky and I feel nothing," this is a song in the vein of Elliott Smith's "Everything Means Nothing to Me," exploring the desire to transcend and the subsequent inability to do so. However, like Smith, Bridgers is able to gather the disappointment of this realization and spin it into artistic gold. The result is a song which, in itself, becomes evidence of something greater: the ability of the artist to express, to mine the dichotomies of the human experience and, through the fire of creation, reveal a gem of universality.

"Moon Song" and "Scott Street" are next, followed by the magnificent "Savior Complex" and Bridgers' most recent single "Sidelines," an absolutely gorgeous love song which may now be my favorite PB track. When I heard it for the first time I just laid in bed and wept.

The last songs of the night are the final three from Punisher: "ICU," "Graceland Too," and "I Know the End," which concludes the album and ends with a cacophonous mix of Sufjan Stevensesque horns and choral voices, along with a closing, primal scream from Phoebe. She encourages the audience to join her this time, and we do, resulting in a collective yelp of euphoria and catharsis.

This sound crops up again later when, during my bedtime Twitter scroll, I see a video someone has posted from their apartment two blocks from the concert. The recording shows a window open to a seemingly peaceful evening, but upon unmuting, the massive scream can be heard as it echoes through the night. Phoebe Bridgers has done something similar with her music, which, upon casual first listen, seems to be a collection of mellow, beautiful folk-pop, but upon closer investigation and with repeat listens, reveals itself to be teeming with primordial themes of desire, survival, and adaptation in the context of a modern human experience.

Daniel Nolen is a writer, designer, and performer in New York City. He is the co-host of the BroadwayWorld podcast Broken Records, as well as the weekly live show Cast Offs, every Monday at 8pm at Alan Cumming's Club Cumming.

Photo by Melissa Menzinger

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