“This is my first time here and, honestly, it’s super-surreal, but I’m having the shittiest day,” Phoebe Bridgers confides in the John Peel Stage crowd after ‘Scott Street’ comes to a quiet close. Hours before the Los Angeles singer-songwriter kicks off her debut Glastonbury set, the US Supreme Court officially overturns the landmark abortion ruling Roe v Wade.
“Fuck the Supreme Court,” she spits before leading the crowd in shouting those exact words, quickly characterising the crew of justices as “irrelevant old men”. Abortion rights is a subject that she’s spoken out about often and that she uses this moment to call attention to it again shows a part of why – outside of her music – she’s become such an important voice in modern indie.
Bridgers might have been a cult indie figure before the pandemic and the release of her second album ‘Punisher’ in 2020, but it was that record that catapulted her to the status of one of the best-loved musicians in the alternative world, inspiring feverish support from her fans. This set to a packed John Peel tent feels like a victory lap for this era of her career – a chance to – after many, many lockdowns – bask in its brilliance with those who sent it stratospheric.
As she performs, the screen behind her is adorned by the animation of a pop-up picture book turning its pages with each song. At times, it shows a spaceship hovering over a city (‘Chinese Satellite’), at others the picturesque Griffith Observatory from the musician’s hometown (‘Moon Song’). It adds a magical quality to the production, elevating Bridgers’ heartfelt songs and highlighting the storytelling element of them that so many people around the world have connected with.
Each song in the set finds the reaction growing ever stronger and louder, from the rapturous response to ‘Kyoto’ to the deafening cheers that come after the driving ‘ICU’. The noise is so loud that, even with a microphone and a massive PA, you can’t make out a word she tries to say as it continues – something she quickly realises with awestruck laughter. When it finally dies down, she shows off her more comedic side with a quick back-and-forth with her drummer, before dedicating recent Conversation With Friends soundtrack contribution ‘Sidelines’ to her boyfriend and Normal People actor Paul Mescal.
Bridgers takes a bow with a little help from her friend Arlo Parks, bringing the British singer-songwriter on stage for a sweet rendition of ‘Graceland Too’. “This is so cool, so surreal,” Bridgers says afterwards, but her smile quickly fades as she reminds the crowd of the bigger issues happening outside our idyllic Glastonbury bubble. “It’s definitely not the darkest day in American history, but it’s up there,” she assesses. “If you’re feeling hopeless, there are some really good abortion funds like Mariposa Fund.”
The picture book graphic that accompanies her final song – which, fittingly enough, is called ‘The End’ – sees a castle goes up in flames. It feels like an accurate representation of our world at times – dystopian, bleak and seemingly unsalvageable – but Bridgers’ set serves as a much-needed expelling of anger and frustration, as well as celebrating an impactful, vital star.
Phoebe Bridgers played:
‘I Know The End’