At approximately 9:17 PM, Milwaukee’s BMO Harris Pavilion came to life with colored lights sweeping across the stage and “Down With The Sickness” by hard rock band Disturbed blaring. The audience responded promptly to this influx of sight and sound, shaking the expansive venue floor with its cheers. Smoke poured from the back of the stage and encroached the tall metal barricade behind which fans writhed in anticipation.
Amid the smoke, figures began to emerge from stage right. Of the six individuals taking their positions, one yielded the biggest response from the audience: a young woman with short blonde hair, standing with guitar in hand.
It was none other than Grammy-nominated musical sensation Phoebe Bridgers. The singer-songwriter’s 2022 Reunion Tour had developed a theme of playing wacky walk-out songs, and this cool summer night was no different. Under the bright stage lights, the sweetness of her smile contrasted the aggressive tone of the music until it eventually faded into a new, more familiar, tune.
With one long strum from her guitar, the artist’s most streamed song “Motion Sickness” began. Bridgers, wearing her notorious skeleton suit, swayed lightly to the music and nodded her head to the beat. Her stage attire for the night was normal for her, but it harbored a victorian-style twist. A long black skirt reached her boots and flowed lightly with her movements. The collar of the get-up was distinctly delicate, incorporating white lace reminiscent of the Elizabethan era (and, to some, Harry Styles’ iconic wedding suit).
Once the first two songs of the show concluded, Bridgers walked back to her mic and surveyed the crowd.
“What’s up,” she said as calm as a friend calling a friend, “This is for dads.”
The crowd erupted, as they knew Bridgers’ Grammy nominated song “Kyoto” would soon begin to play. The ballad-turned-rock tune features an upbeat tempo complete with Bowie-esque electric guitar riffs. The lyrics, on the other hand, take on a depressing undertone, describing the artist’s confusing relationship with her father and “riffing off recent feelings since her parents’ divorce.” After all, Bridgers is widely known for “juxtaposing sad lyrics with a glittery exterior.”
The words to the song include the lines, “He said you called on his birthday / You were off by like ten days / But you get a few points for trying.” These promote a diary-like relatability within both show and personal listening contexts. Consequently, her fans interacted with her like childhood best friends. They chanted song requests — mostly consisting of a fan-favorite from her debut solo album, “Georgia” — and tossed gifts to her from the pit including a familiar cheese-resembling head accessory.
The alternative singer-songwriter filled the stage with her unfiltered lyrics and mannerisms, both facilitating a comfortable environment for concert goers to lull and sway, cry or scream the lyrics back to her. The audience took this opportunity for freedom of expression in stride.
“I can feel this bass in my chest!” one young audience member shouted over the music as he danced behind the barricade. Another yawned contently during the next song, expressing not boredom but relaxation under the strobing lights. Other audience members pulled one another into long hugs or raised their hands in the shape of hearts for the band to acknowledge. Some girls took on a hypnotized state, staring up at the stage in unmistakeable awe; one even shouted, “She’s ethereal!”
Of the eccentric costumes, creative lighting and reactive crowd, one of the more notable details of the performance took place in the background. The big screens surrounding the stage harbored abstract moving pictures that coincided with each song and transformed the venue into a realistic representation of the albums being performed. These spectacles began with waning constellations. The stars moved swiftly into an illustration of a ghost-adorned book which opened to reveal a scenic landscape. A UFO flew before the audience before a sunrise lifted over dark water.
Amid her rise to musical fame, Bridgers has developed a considerable following on social media. Maintaining a funny and relaxed presence on Instagram, @phoebebridgers served as a source of relief for some during the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to this, Bridgers does not fail to express her commitment to LGBTQ+ rights and, as she explained halfway through the night’s set, her opposition to “white supremacy and all that.”
It was fitting then that Pride Fest had begun only a few hundred feet away on the Summerfest grounds. This inspired her to say to fans, “Happy Pride everyone,” joking, “What a fun time for corporations to sell yourselves back to you!”
Regardless of the excitement amassed from the festival continuing just outside of the venue, Bridgers’ performance was a relaxed and intimate experience. The singer swept from one side of the stage to the other. She sang the lyrics “hide in plain sight” and promptly covered her eyes, receiving a few admiring giggles from the crowd. Following this, she moved to sit on the edge of the stage, dangling her shiny boots off it. At one point, she even joined her audience on the ground and raised the microphone to a girl who passionately sang a few verses of “Scott Street.”
Through the incorporation of close fan interactions along with funny quips into the microphone, the performance successfully represented what is becoming Phoebe Bridgers’ signature performance style: just being herself.
Overall, Bridgers’ performance this Friday proved the singer to be the most relaxed she’s ever been in front of thousands of screaming fans. Save for the visceral rock moment of “I Know The End” that serves as Bridgers’ finale song, the performance was refreshingly serene. And, judging by the audience’s relatively unified response, that was just what they came for.