Review: Katie Wighton // photos: Daniela Tantelo @dani.doubledouble
“The opening lyric of “I'm singing at a funeral tomorrow for a kid a year older than me” is like a punch of reality in the face. The fairy lights on the mic stand allude to the sense of magic Bridgers has and it is palpable in the room tonight.”
Christian Lee Hutson has a pointy collared shirt and his hair slicked back like a member of the Adams Family. He sits in the middle of the stage on his own with a single spotlight. You can tell he's from California though he moves like a Southerner. Slow and purposeful. He sings “Let's get the old band back together” as he quietly strums an old nylon string guitar that reminds me of my mum's old Maton. He doesn't really talk to us much but that's okay – his songs speak volumes. Although I would really like to know what he thinks about stuff. He's a fairly understated performer so the second that he sings the words “keep you down” and really lets loose, the audience sits up and pays attention. Funny that. You can't have loud without quiet.
He's super grateful to be in Australia performing with Phoebe Bridgers (as one third of her band) and he tells us the 7-inch records he made weren't ready in time but he's burnt some to a disk. How very retro! I really liked Christian Lee Hutson's set. His sound unique and his words few.
Phoebe Bridgers record Stranger in the Alps played a rather large role in my life when it came out. I was on tour myself at the time and super homesick. We were in the dreary UK November sleet and that record was the perfect soundtrack. Hopeless enough to capture my mood but hopeful enough not to make me want to give up entirely.
She comes out on stage to Iris by the Goo Goo Dolls and it's funny as heck. She and her band totally know it too. Bridgers opens with Smoke Signals and I feel like I'm swimming in silk. The lyrics are so evocative. She sings “Sleeping in my bed again, and getting in my head and then walk around the reservoir.” In my head that's always been the Silverlake Reservoir in LA. I can picture that walk – I've done it before. It's stark and hot and beautiful and that's exactly how I feel in this song. Then there's that Twin Peaks-esque bassline. Even though there's no bass. Christian Lee Hutson plays it on his nylon string and it's gorgeous.
Phoebe Bridgers makes me exhale. Long and soft. There's a relentlessness to the strum of her guitar and her three-piece band manage to capture the album perfectly somehow. The lack of bass leaves room for the soaring harmonies from Hutson and Marshall Vaugh (drums).
She plays Funeral and I swear to god if you can listen to this and not be moved you must have a heart of stone. The opening lyric of “I'm singing at a funeral tomorrow for a kid a year older than me” is like a punch of reality in the face. The fairy lights on the mic stand allude to the sense of magic Bridgers has and it is palpable in the room tonight.
She and Christian banter about weed and get the giggles. “Chris was smoking weed out of apples for a while. And he used to say to me 'You're ruining a perfectly good pipe'” It's clear from their stage chat that these two are fast friends and it's even more evident in the music they're creating.
The week before her Australian shows Phoebe Bridgers was one of the brave women who spoke out in a New York Times article against singer Ryan Adams and his behaviour towards women. As a huge fan of Adams, I was so bitterly disappointed that yet another man in the music industry could abuse his power in this way. So as Bridgers sings “Take a dirty picture babe” it makes me feel sick to my stomach and I can only imagine how she feels singing those words – even if they aren't about him.
I can hear the brushes on the snare and every single breath they all take – the sound at The Croxton is impeccable tonight. She tells stories about her and Christian and Conor Oberst writing together and I feel like we're in her lounge room. I feel like I'm her friend. She invites us all in with such tenderness and humility.
Killer is, of course, ridiculously heart-wrenching. I've never heard someone sing about love in that way. “I hope you kiss my rotten head and pull the plug. Know that I've burned every playlist, and given all my love” Ooft ooft OOFT. Those words have always hit me like a sucker punch in the chest and tonight is no exception.
Marshall Vaugh who has been sitting over to the right of the stage behind the drum-kit wanders up to the front. The three of them sing a Gillian Welch song written about Napster called Everything is Free Now and it's still, sadly, just as relevant. Phoebe and Marshall sound beautiful together, singing around the one microphone in true Welch/Rawlings style.
She sings a boygenius song too - her project with Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker. She talks about her pug who died and sings Me & My Dog “We got no sleep because we were kissing. I had a fever until I met you. You make me cool.”
She finishes the set with Emotional Motion Sickness and this is when she brings up (in a round about way) the happenings of the week before. Phoebe urges us to be better at calling our friends out. Because it's not always as obvious as a stranger in the park at midnight. Sometimes it's your mate who is dating a 16 yr old and nobody says a word. She ends this conversation with “Here's a song about someone I hate” and the crowd cheers. What a song this is too.
The set ends and at just over an hour, the perfect amount of time if you ask me. They come back out for an encore (of course!!) and the lyrics are, again, brutal. “I hate your mum. I hate when she opens her mouth. It's amazing to me how much you can say when you don't know what you're talking about.”
For someone of just 24 years of age, Phoebe Bridgers is a woman of beautiful and poignant words. She has a voice like springtime and the humility of someone who just wants to play the songs she's so brilliantly crafted. Her band are talented and understated and this gig is truly special. I can't wait for the next record and I get the feeling this audience can't either.