Phoebe Bridgers live in Manchester: voice of a generation refuses to ‘shut up and sing’

Manchester Apollo, July 24: the extended 'Punisher' tour emboldens her reputation as one of the planet's most influential musicians

Midway through Phoebe Bridgers’ celebratory and cathartic Manchester Apollo gig, she addresses her 3,500 disciples, with palpable feeling. “You know when people are like ‘stick to the music’ and ‘shut up and sing’ when artists share their opinions about things?,” she asks, before concluding. “How stupid is that?” She proceeds to introduce ‘Chinese Satellite’ by underlining her views over the recent Roe v. Wade reversal, her own experience of abortion, and highlighting that the ruling will disproportionately affect poor and marginalised communities. She notes that she had walk-outs in conservative Florida while discussing it. “I was like: what do you guys hear in my music?,” she adds incredulously. “It’s not for you! Fuck you!’”

The best pop stars make you feel like you’re part of an us-against-the-world exclusive club, and Bridgers’ songs, marinated in sorrow so sumptuous it feels like joy, pulls off the enviable trick of being universal enough to appeal to everybody while feeling specifically like she’s talking to you; when words have failed and you’re surrounded by the toppled Jenga blocks of life. She’s also defiantly not a ‘shut up and sing’ kind of artist, and part of the power of tonight – aside from it acting as a post-pandemic party-atmosphere victory lap for her COVID-era rise via her stellar 2020 album ‘Punisher’ – is how subjects that are frequently shrouded in shame, such as abortion, sexuality, depression and sexual harassment, are brought into the light and empoweringly shared. When she mentions that ‘Motion Sickness’, from 2017 debut ‘Stranger In The Alps’, is about Ryan Adams, the boos and heckling from the audience that greets the disgraced rocker’s name are deafening.

On the second night of her UK ‘Reunion’ tour, she’s also very funny, sardonically introducing the mournful majesty of ‘Smoke Signals”(“Here’s another dirge!”), eyebrow raised higher than the balcony, bantering with drummer Marshall Vore about the meaning of songs (“I’m not LyricsGenius.com” he quips back), donning glittery stetsons hurled by the crowd, and introducing ‘Kyoto’ with the knowing: “Who has a complicated relationship with their father?” – which in an audience full of teenagers and LGBTQ+ fans, is akin to enquiring in Willy Wonka’s Chocolate Factory: “Hey, any of you Oompa Loompas got pre-diabetes?”

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Walking onstage to The Disturbed‘s metal-anthem ‘Down With The Sickness’, Bridgers and her band of skeletons – including a trumpeter JJ Kirkpatrick who adds a funereal flourish to tracks – are practically drowned out by the communal choir, primed for emotional purging, reflecting every word back at them with fervour. The effective visuals shows an animated fairy-tale book turning the page with each song; whether it’s a graveyard with ghosts during the crepuscular campfire-song intimacy of ‘Halloween’ or the Griffith Observatory from her hometown LA that accompanies ‘Moon Song’.

As ‘Graceland Too’, dedicated to the ”gays”, has to be restarted because an overawed fan requires medical assistance and a rollicking ‘I Know The End’ sees flames lick the pages of the cartoon storybook before turning it to ash, you’re in no doubt that – doubters in red-states Florida be damned – the queen of sad is deservedly destined for bigger stages and a happy ending.

Phoebe Bridgers played:

‘Motion Sickness’
‘DVD Menu’
‘Garden Song’
‘Kyoto’
‘Punisher’
‘Halloween’
‘Smoke Signals’
‘Funeral’
‘Chinese Satellite’
‘Moon Song’
‘Scott Street’
‘Savior Complex’
‘ICU’
‘Sidelines’
‘Graceland Too’
‘I Know the End’
‘Me & My Dog’

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