Phoebe Bridgers delivers an evocative, yet refined performance at Stubb’s Waller Creek Amphitheater for ACL Late Nights


Kara Hawley

Phoebe Bridgers performs on the Ladybird Stage during Weekend 1 of the 2021 Austin City Limits Music Festival on Oct. 2.

Chandler Rowley, Life and Arts Reporter

Phoebe Bridgers has come a long way since performing to intimate audiences at hole-in-the-wall Austin venues like Antone’s Nightclub in 2018.

On Thursday evening, the pensive singer-songwriter taped a performance at the hallowed Moody Theater for the Austin City Limits television program. The following night, she played a sold out show at the Stubb’s Waller Creek Amphitheater.

Bridgers, ditching her classic skeleton onesie for a black Gucci suit, strode onstage to the pulsing synthesizers of “I Gotta Feeling” by the Black Eyed Peas. Thunderous applause gave way to the first chord of “Motion Sickness” and the artist held the audience in the palm of her hand. The lyrics carry the weight of a toxic and manipulative relationship, yet Bridgers’ subdued delivery displayed not only her masterful songwriting but her ability to take control of past harms.

With a capacity of approximately 2,200, Stubb’s is by no means a small venue, but Bridgers’ affable stage presence and meditative lyricism brought a closeness akin to a street busker’s performance. The swelling of the violin during “DVD Menu” segued perfectly into the understated arpeggio that accompanies “Garden Song”. The purity of Bridgers’ voice paired with minimal instrumentation made it feel like the music engulfed the room slowly, a tough effect to create in an outdoor amphitheater.

Fan-made signs popped up among the crowd, ranging from song requests to one sign that read “punch me in the face.” She graciously reciprocated their love and admiration by playing “Georgia,” a fan-requested deep cut from Bridgers’ archives. Written in her teenage years, the song lacks the sophistication the 27-year old artist garnered after several LPs, yet its simplicity serves as an endearment rather than a hindrance.

The tonal range of Bridgers’ catalog is admittedly partial to slower, more thoughtful musical motifs. She emerged as one of the leading figures in the alternative music scene and for good reason. In today’s musical landscape, it’s rare to find a songwriter who crafts words with the efficiency of a poet, but Bridgers accomplishes just that.

That profundity also marks “Kyoto,” though it stands out as a departure from Bridgers’ moodier tracks. The soaring fanfare of the trumpet makes the listener feel as though they are “dreaming through Tokyo skies,” with the passionate vocalist as their spiritual guide. While a large majority of her setlist lends itself to a more ruminative listening experience, the wall of sound that accompanies the chorus allows for an almost therapeutic release.

The closing tune of her set, appropriately titled “I Know the End”, serves as a prime example of the breadth of Bridgers’ discography. The drone of dreamy organ keys alongside an understated chord progression elevates the rich timbre of her vocals. At the midway point, the song slowly begins building towards a cacophony of sounds layered beneath Bridgers’ (and the audience’s) impassioned screams. The organized chaos created a shared sonic experience that no attendee will soon forget.