Concert Review: How we Became Based and Phoebepilled

By: Arthur Machado

Last Sunday night (9/12) the Post-Iron Man streets of Madison were no longer populated by exercise-junkies attempting to beat their own times; instead, the streets were packed with sad indie kids in their skeleton morphsuits. However, there was no early Halloween party happening in town… they were all going to see Phoebe Fucking Bridgers.

I will be completely honest with you, I had completely missed the Punisher hype in 2020. While being aware of her exponential popularity and newfound status as an indie darling, I had never listened to any of her tracks prior to the concert, nor did my journalistic partner, friend and lovely traffic director Anne O’Neill. My only contact with the singer-songwriter was through Glitch Gum’s chaotic hyperpop cover of Kyoto, a song that became one of my top anthems this last summer. While driving around Breese Stevens Field, we were shocked at the hour-long lines that wrapped around the stadium and extended into suburbia… we had no idea what to even expect.

The show was part of Bridger’s “Reunion” tour, and due to the singer’s requests for outdoor venues and full vaccination of concert-goers, it was moved from the Sylvee to the neighboring soccer field, allowing for an expanded crowd size and festival-like show production. 

We arrived just as the doors opened at 5:30 and marched towards the end of the monumental line. Anne remarked on how it felt like we knew every single person in that line and this could not be more accurate, it seemed like the entirety of the Madison alt scene was ready to experience Phoebe-fever and we were the only ones out of the loop. 

Amongst jokes about jumping over the short fence to cut the line and how we were going to mosh to Kyoto (the only song we knew existed) we were interrupted by the muffled psych-rock of the very first opener… Madison’s own Slow Pulp. Even before I moved to Madison I was already an avid fan, and I’ll tell you this… if they sounded great from outside of the venue I am certain they absolutely rocked their short set on the soccer field! 

After a couple more long minutes we finally presented our vaccination cards and made our way into the packed venue. This was the most people I had seen in the post-covid world, and it felt great to finally be back in the concert scene. The merch line extended all throughout the back of the building, showing us even more signs of the devotion of her extensive fanbase. 

Having made our way to the near front of the crowd the second act, MUNA, started to perform their set. The LA based queer indie pop powerhouse charmed the whole audience instantly with their upbeat songs and captivating stage presence. The cheery nature of the band was all around their set, with songs like “I Know A Place” and “Number One Fan”. Another highlight of the MUNA performance was the relatable casual banter between the three frontwomen of the band in between songs. 

Even though thousands of fans were crammed like sardines in the Madison Forward stadium, the talented MUNA made it feel like they were close friends of ours, playing a lively house show. At the end of their set they played their new single “Silk Chiffon,” a feel-good pop anthem featuring no one other than the woman of the night: Phoebe Bridgers. The crowd roared with excitement as the two singers harmonized with each other as Phoebe sang in her most upbeat song to date. MUNA was a stellar opening act, and I can’t wait to see them being featured in future festivals.

After 30 minutes of loud chatter and an ice cold over-expensive Bud Light being spilt on my shoes the 2008 nostalgic masterpiece “I Gotta Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas begins playing off the speakers. In their grand entrance, Phoebe Bridgers and her bandmates walk onto stage, all wearing the now classic glow in the dark skeleton uniforms. 

They took over the stage with the energetic indie-rock “Motion Sickness” as their opener. The singer and her touring band showcased their extensive musical talent, delightful interplay and a knack for adapting Bridgers’ often introspective tracks to arena levels of musical depth. What an amazing opening song…

It is also important to highlight the entire production design of the concert. The synchronized LED lights on the instruments and microphone stands combined with the incredible lighting rig at the venue put together an incredible visual spectacle. As the band sang songs from Punisher, the projection of a pop-up book served as the background. Bridgers sang the soundtrack to her own melancholic fairy-tale. 

We were then graced with a sequence of crowd-pleasers from her sophomore album, playing the next five tracks in the exact order as they were originally featured. Two songs in the singer announced “This one is for all of those who knew what CPS is as a child” before starting to play her hit-song “Kyoto.” This was the highlight of this first act of the concert, while no one moshed to the track the whole crowd empathically sang along. 

“This one is for all of those who knew what CPS is as a child”

Bridgers’ songwriting and appeal was instantly identifiable in quieter, introspective tracks like “Halloween,” and “Saviour Complex.” A mixture of dark humour and realist storytelling permeated throughout her songs as she sang about relatable topics of failed relationships, family problems, and her insecurities. Her trademark style choices feels as if it would be the perfect fit if carried over to an A24 coming of age movie.

In short intermissions from the Punisher-era tracks Bridgers also graced us with some past highlights of her career, including the boygenius single “Death of a Dog.” The powerful ballad about anxiety, loss, and grief featured the band’s drummer Marshall Vore on the banjo. The succinct country riffs resonated throughout the audience as hundreds of her superfans sang along to the track.

Bridgers’ announced the following track with “this song is about how the world would be so cursed if we only wrote sad songs, so maybe I should write about what I hope for the world and for those I love”. These beautiful words were the intro to the freeing “I Know The End.” The Punisher-closer featured beautiful production design, as the lighting arrangement on stage mimicked fire, as the storybook motif burned down behind the band. The lights mimicked Bridgers’ cathartic pain, her screams resonated through the audience, and on one final band jam the singer and her guitarist made out as the world ended. 

The night ended with an encore — Bo Burnham’s quarantine hymn “That Funny Feeling.” At that moment, with an even more despair-inducing arrangement from the band Phoebe Bridgers showcased to us one last time what she is best at: transforming her anguishes into beautiful expressions of talent. After this wonderful night I completely understand the hype over the LA-based singer songwriter, and personally, I could not be more excited for her future releases!

Anne’s Thoughts Throughout The Night

  • Love the lighting.
    • Incredible set design
      • I loved the book/literary imagery. 
      • Too much of my high school stage crew mentality is coming up and I want to know how they structured and programmed their set up.
  • This is the weirdest mix of depressed girls and hyped up gays I have ever seen.
    • Haha, Arthur got cut off by a couple that does not understand the proper limitations of PDA in public.
      • Oh no, Arthur got cut off by a couple that does not understand the proper limitations of PDA in public.
  • Some of the lyrics hit really hard and feel like something I can relate to:
    • I swear I’m not angry, that’s just my face” (Punisher)
      • This is too real.
    • Other lyrics are lost on me because they seem to be a deep cut into her personal life that I have no prior knowledge of and therefore confuse/ (sort of but not really) frustrate me.
  • Really enjoying the atmosphere:
    • Rain has started to sprinkle a little bit but I do not care, I am starting to understand why people like her so much.
    • Uncomfortable by some of the comments shouted out by Phoebe stans.
  • Final song: Jesus Christ. 
    • Okay, I love the guitar.
      • Damn, love screaming even more.
        • Oh wow, they are making out right now.
          • Okay Jesus, again, I am focused on the lighting.
            • I get it now.
  • Encore: 
    • Who is Bo Burnham?
      • My friend already knows all of the lyrics and I am in the dark again but still having a good time.
  • Overall: I am starting to understand the hype. Despite not having a coming-of-age/ formative experience I do understand how people in my life have resonated with her songs and am glad I was able to see her in person and experience this first hand.