There is a heavy air of anticipation across Scala this evening, and the venue is already two thirds full as support Gold Star take the stage. Reminiscent of Phoebe Bridgers’ collaborator Ryan Adams, and of Tom Waits, front man Marlon Rabenreither makes the most of performing warm songs tinged with the blues and classic country. Harrison Whitford, Bridgers’ guitarist, joins for a track or two, acting as the perfect segue to the main event.
As the lights dim, a hush descends upon the now jam packed room. Fairy lights intertwined around the mic stand and drumkit, three musicians in dark suits and ties walk on the stage followed by Bridgers in her now traditional ethereal diaphanous white dress. It’s an almost church-like scene as Bridgers gently launches into Smoke Signals, the opening track of her critically acclaimed debut album Stranger in the Alps, her delicate vocals gathered up in the blanket of the aforementioned Harrison Whitford’s slide guitar.
As the first notes of Funeral, a haunting song about a friend dying of an overdose, play out the audience seems to have stopped breathing. There is almost silence, hardly a phone screen raised above the crowd trying to capture the moment for posterity is visible. Such is Bridgers’ power, her unassuming but somehow utterly enthralling presence, no-one seems to even want to take a breath for fear of breaking the spell and frightening her away.
Against this backdrop, Bridgers splits her attention between gazing out at her flock and looking up to the side wall projecting the disembodied hand of the 2015-2017 UK Children’s Laureate, Chris Riddell, live sketching the show, turning each song into a perfect atmospheric snapshot in just a few minutes. But despite this arresting activity, the congregation remain firmly focused on the stage.
The double-header of Killer, a vignette of an evening spent watching a documentary of a serial killer, and an acoustic Steamroller, a track from an early EP that mysteriously never made it to the album, is devastating. The stunning simplicity of the two melodies combined with cleverly twisting lyrics illustrating the gently dangerous allure of combining love and depression hangs heavy over the audience.
With a deft touch, the mood lightens as Bridgers is joined at the microphone by drummer Marshall Vore to perform a beautiful cover of Gillian Welch’s Everything Is Fine, before rolling out sad banger Motion Sickness. The crowd finally breathes, as the at times highly amusing autobiographical song allows a moment of wry smiles and nods.
With Scott Street closing out the set, it seems that we may survive this show with some of our hearts intact. However the encore of a stripped back You Missed My Heart takes another chunk. But as if knowing she couldn’t leave like this on the final night of her ‘Farewell Tour’ she plays Me And My Dog, a track from her upcoming collaborative EP with Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus.
It’s comforting to know that as this chapter ends there is no sense that Bridgers is done. She has plenty more dark, twisted, heartbreaking and heartwarming anecdotes to share. But for now she’s gone, casually sauntering off the stage leaving everyone breathless, bruised and yet somehow at peace with the darkness of the human condition.
Phoebe Bridgers played: Smoke Signals, Funeral, Georgia, Would You Rather, Chelsea, Demi Moore, Killer, Steamroller, Everything Is Free (Gillian Welch cover), Motion Sickness, Scott Street. Encore: You Missed My Heart, (Mark Kozelek & Jimmy LaValle cover), Me And My Dog