Lastly, this week I’m going to see Phoebe Bridgers in concert (!! - those presale ticket codes really help). I think it will be the first concert I’m going to alone, and certainly one from a new/current traditional recording artist artist…like Acaster describes in his book, I too ignored recently released music for a long time–except for me, that started when I was very young so for a long time I only listened to music from my parents’ generation. Seriously, I’ve gone with one or both of my parents to see Steely Dan (my first concert at 13), Chicago, Kansas, and a Pink Floyd cover band. In college I got very into R.E.M., but sadly they broke up in 2011.
Even though the concert will be outdoors with likely some social distancing measures, and no one I know will be there (as far as I’m aware, at least), I’m looking forward to feeling kinship with the other concer-goers. I’ve had quite a bit of loneliness this year, one particular bout triggered by the realization that while there are a lot of local music venues and concerts around me, they are all county, blues, or classic rock–genres either I don’t like (country), often have some spiritual bent (my relationship to religion can perhaps be best described by Bridgers’ song “Chinese Satellite”), and/or I do enjoy but attracts older crowds. I longed to be surrounded by fellow young people, united through the common thread of music surrounding us.
Phoebe Bridgers is perhaps known as a “sad” indie artist, with her core fans being queer femmes (Bridgers herself is bisexual) with some sort of relationship to depression or, at least, the macabre. After all, her first major hits were songs about an emotionally abusive relationship (“Motion Sickness”) and an existential reflection on attending the funeral of someone just a little older than you (“Funeral”). Her 2020 album that she is touring for, Punisher, has also been considered rock, particularly for its main singles “Kyoto” (a disassociative experience in Japan angry at an absent alcoholic father) and “I Know the End” (the actual apocalypse, culminating in horns and screams). But ultimately throughout these songs she continues to live, however mundanely; there is melancholy, but not total despair. In fact, there’s a little arc in Punisher I’ve found: in “Chinese Satellite” she sings, You know I’d hate to be alone” and “I want to go home,“ but in the final track of "I Know the End” she sings in the midst of a disappearing world, “Either way, I’m not alone / I’ll find a new place to be from.” (Yes, the relationship between the spiritual and actual aliens is blurred.) The first is despair and loneliness, the second is acceptance and connection.
I find immense comfort in that intensity, so much so I would put on one of her albums or a playlist of her music during my insomnia back in January. Her music has the same sonic, produced atmosphere you get with Pink Floyd, with the quiet confessions of Joni Mitchell. The background vocals shine, and led her to collaborate with Conor Oberst (as Better Oblivion Community Center) and Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus (as boygenius)–both albums I recommend.