Phoebe Bridgers keeps cool, rocks cheese head, during performance in Milwaukee
Phoebe Bridgers demonstrated a new way to determine if a song is compelling at a packed BMO Harris pavilion in Milwaukee on Friday.
We’ll call it The Cheesehead Test.
About two-thirds of the singer-songwriter’s 83-minute set, recurring chants of “cheesehead” roared from the pit, because, Wisconsin. Bridgers stopped, noticed a piece of Dairy State novelty headgear in the hands of a fan, grabbed it, and put it on.
“Don’t make fun of me,” she said, laughing to herself.
Bridgers asked the crowd if they could take it seriously if they wore it while playing a song. And then she launched into “Savior Complex” — and not a single chuckle could be heard, even with the giant, cheese-replicating foam triangle on her head.
“Baby, you’re a vampire,” she sang of an addicted and troubled lover, with the mesmerized crowd. “You want blood and I promised/I’m a bad liar.”
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Lyrics like these, from his 2020 second album ‘Punisher’, turned Bridgers into a major star, as a burgeoning fanbase found solace in the vulnerability of his lyrics during a terrifying pandemic.
Bridgers’ fun social media presence also brought some levity to a dark time, and there was a touch of humor on Friday’s show. After kindly saying “Happy Pride everyone” – there was a little rainbow flag on stage and PrideFest was taking place simultaneously at Maier Festival Park – Bridgers brightly joked: “What a fun time for companies to resell to you!”
And Bridgers’ choice of hard-rock band Disturbed’s “Down With the Sickness” as the intro music, before its opener “Motion Sickness,” was quite amusing.
Despite this aggressive vibe, Bridgers’ set was a largely laid-back affair.
Of course, it was a big stage with several thousand people in attendance. And there were some slick animations on the screens around it, including a recurring pop-up storybook motif. Bridgers and his five backing musicians also sported those now-iconic black skeleton outfits which no doubt helped rock merchandise sales. (Lines were huge on Friday.)
But Bridgers seemed pretty nonchalant about the sudden stardom and, for much of Friday’s performance, didn’t feel the need for flashy showmanship. She tapped the drum cymbal with her finger for “Halloween,” sang a bit while kneeling, and calmly slipped into the pit to let a fan sing a few verses into her mic for “Scott Street.”
But it was telling that during this song she was overshadowed by her adorable dog Maxine, who made an appearance on stage at the hands of one of her relatives who joined the band for a single.
(Like her human, Maxine was pretty cool.)
So instead of striving to dominate the stage and seize the moment, Bridgers followed his instincts and let his lyrics do the heavy lifting. They had brought her this far and were truly the stars of the show.
“It’s amazing all you can say / When you don’t know what you’re talking about,” a disenchanted Bridgers sang dryly to an ex (actually her drummer and sometimes co-writer, Marshall Vore) for “ICU” .
“You asked to walk me home / But I had to carry you,” she sang to a thoughtless partner for “Moon Song,” the narrator still tragically pining for. “Shove your tongue down someone’s throat who loves you more/So I’ll wait for the next time you want me like a dog with a bird at your door.”
Bridgers’ new single “Sidelines” suggests her songwriting skills are getting even sharper, as she explores how even someone giving love can have consequences. “Watching the world from the sidelines/ Had nothing to prove,” she sang over the band’s gentle folk-rock swell. “Until you came into my life / You gave me something to prove.”
Bridgers acted like she had nothing to prove on Friday, but there was one exception: the climax of the goosebump-inducing “I Know The End” set, with its musical construction that quickens the pulse around the Bridgers’ increasingly urgent vocal allusions to “a slaughterhouse”, “a shopping mall”, “slot machines”, and “a haunted house with a stockade”. Once the tension proved too much, Bridgers and her fans — most of them, like her, young women — let out a visceral full-throated scream together, as Vore, trumpeter JJ Kirkpatrick and guitarist Harrison Whitford went wild, the pop-up image book of a house on the big screen catching fire and burning.
This moment proved that Bridgers could do the theatrical rock star thing if she wanted to. But mostly on Friday, she just wanted to be herself.
And judging by the crowd’s response, that’s exactly what her fans expect of her.
- Bridgers revealed on Friday that some of his comments on recent shows about gay rights, his pro-choice stance and health care have prompted some people to come out. “And I’m like, ‘Get out,'” Bridgers said to cheers, without making any big political statements on Friday.
- Much of the music world may have quit COVID-19, but Bridgers has not, requiring proof of vaccination status to enter his show on Friday and encouraging fans to wear a mask, which many have done.
- Bridgers’ biggest fans in Milwaukee camped out for more than 12 hours on Friday, with a dozen young fans waiting since before 8 a.m. when Journal Sentinel reporter Bill Glauber was at the Milwaukee World Festival offices. for a board meeting.
- Bridgers has become popular enough to have a budding music empire, reserving its Friday opening slot for Charles Hickey, a like-minded singer-songwriter and the latest signee to his Saddest Factory Records label. But as well as boosting Hickey’s career with the record deal and giving him the No. 1 spot on his tour, Bridgers also joined him for his closing song “Ten Feet Tall”, to make sure he attracts as much attention as possible. (Bridgers also invited him onstage during his set, to sing along with “Chinese Satellite.”)
The set list
1. “Motion sickness”
2. “DVD menu”
3. “Song of the Garden”
7. “Smoke Signals”
9. “Chinese Satellite”
10. “Song of the Moon”
11. “Scott Street”
12. “Savior Complex”
13. “Intensive Care Unit”
15. “Graceland too”
16. “I know the end”