The first article I ever wrote for WKNC was a review of Phoebe Bridgers’ album “Punisher”. As of September 2021, I have two tattoos inspired by her songs. All my friends could tell you that I’m obsessed with Phoebe’s music. So let’s just say that seeing her in concert in Charlotte on Sept. 19, 2021 was kind of a dream come true.
The first thing that struck me is how much I related to other Phoebe fans. When I got in line at around 6pm, about a hundred people were already there. They were either wearing all black, a skeleton suit, goth clothes, high platform shoes, or all of these at the same time. All my friends could tell you that I hate wearing colors, so seeing people barely wearing any felt strangely satisfying. Like Phoebe said on stage later, “everyone looked hot”. Most of the fans attending the concert were — I’m assuming — between 16 and 18 years old. I remember telling my friend while we were waiting in line how cool it was to see teenagers being able to express themselves *that* fully through fashion. So many queer people and couples were there too. As a 23-year-old queer person myself, I liked the idea that the generation coming after me had a safe queer space like this concert to be fully themselves. I didn’t have that growing up, but we all did that night. Long story short, I was mostly surrounded by goths and queers, and that made me feel more at peace than ever.
The first part of the concert was played by a girl band newly signed on Phoebe’s label: MUNA. Everyone went crazy when Phoebe showed up unannounced during their set to sing their collab song, “Silk Chiffon”. It was the only song I knew by them — so it was the only time where I fully enjoyed myself. I’m not going to go into any more details, but overall, MUNA was fun to watch. The singer had great dance moves, and one of the guitarists was *really* good at moving their hips. Like, insanely good.
Now, for Phoebe’s part. Boy, where do I even begin. Phoebe was wearing a skeleton suit like she does on the cover of “Punisher” (and pretty much anywhere she performs, too). She started with her most famous song, “Motion Sickness”. I brought a friend with me to the concert and it’s the only song she knew, like most people usually do. It was a great way to start the show and get everyone to sing and jump right away. Right after, she and her band started playing “DVD Menu” — the slow, mystical instrumental that serves as an intro on “Punisher” — and something appeared on the screen behind them: a giant black and white book cover that read “Punisher” in big, white letters.
A few drawings were included on there: a haunted house, a ghost and other scary (but cute and poetic) images. I would discover a few minutes later that every single page from the book would be an illustration for each song she was playing on stage. The drawings and the animations were meticulously crafted: each page unfolded like a 3D post-card. Sometimes, the screen displayed a page from the book. Sometimes, it just displayed a beautiful, dark night sky with hundreds of glistening stars. The concert was happening the day before the full moon, and the actual moon was glowing brightly in the sky. The natural atmosphere surrounding the concert perfectly matched Phoebe’s aesthetic. It was surreal.
It would be hard for me to choose a favorite part of the concert. Some songs, like “Funeral” or “Moon Song”, really hit home and made me cry so hard I barely had time to record them. Other songs like “Halloween” or “Georgia” made me emotional, but hearing hundreds of other people singing the lyrics with me was really comforting. A song like “Kyoto” — which I personally refer to as “Punisher’s Motion Sickness” because they’re the only upbeat songs on both of her albums — made me jump and scream and dance the night away.
Speaking of the song “Georgia”: Phoebe wasn’t even supposed to play it that night. She only played it because at some point, EVERYONE in the crowd started screaming “GEORGIA! GEORGIA! GEORGIA!” out of nowhere. I have no idea how they came up with that collective request so quickly. “Georgia” being the very first song I ever listened to by Phoebe, I couldn’t complain. One thing I know for sure is that Phoebe’s voice was as amazing live as it is on the album.
I know it might seem a little odd to go to a concert to listen to slow, sad songs and to cry with a bunch of strangers under the full moon. As far as I’m concerned, 1) that sounds like the perfect Sunday night plan, and 2) it was one of the most memorable concerts I’ve been to. I also couldn’t believe how many lyrics I knew in their entirety. I didn’t think listening to her music that much would brainwash me into knowing her songs literally by heart.
The only thing that annoyed me that night was that Phoebe tended to downplay the real meaning of her songs. “This song is about arguing with someone on a Whole Foods parking lot”, she said about “ICU”, which is originally about a painful break-up. “This song is about horny alcoholism”, she commented before “Savior Complex”, which is about a codependent relationship. I was a little disappointed that she’d use something as tragic and life-ruining as alcoholism as a joke, but there’s nothing I could really do about it. I just wish she would fully embrace how deep and clever and sad and scary and terrifying her lyrics can be. Sometimes, her jokes were funny and made everyone laugh, like that one time where she wore a bra someone threw on stage as a hat. And some other times, her jokes sounded like she couldn’t bring herself to be vulnerable in front of the crowd.
If Phoebe could read these words, I would just like to tell her: as fans of your music, our natural state is to either be sad, or to love anything that has to do with sadness. We all came to your concert because we all relate to the deepest, darkest lyrics in your songs. You could have admitted that you’re a really, really sad person too, and no one would have batted an eyelash.
She ended the concert by singing a cover of Bo Burnham’s “That Funny Feeling”, which happens to be my favorite song from his Netflix special “Inside”. I couldn’t have asked for a better end to that show.
Before I booked the ticket, I didn’t know Phoebe was supposed to come to Raleigh, NC, so that’s why I went to see her in Charlotte, NC, in case you were wondering. My friend had to drive us back from Charlotte after the show, and it took us 3 hours to go back home. After listening to sad songs for 2 hours straight, our plan to stay awake during the drive was to tell each other everything about our past relationships while listening to a night drive playlist — and we couldn’t have had a more relevant end to that night.
— Lise Nox