The End is (Almost) Here: Phoebe Bridgers helps bring era of Zoom concerts to a close

Cullen Fagan, Senior Staff Reporter

This past Thursday, Tulane students settled into their beds, Trader Joe’s Sauvignon Blanc in hand, to watch a Zoom live stream with recent Grammy nominee Phoebe Bridgers. Tulane professor Chris Finney moderated, with what he described as a “storytelling vibe,” where Bridgers switched between performing and answering questions from Finney.

phoebe bridgers holds a guitar while singing in a skeleton sweatshirt in front of a galaxy background
Phoebe Bridgers donned her trademark skeleton sweatshirt when performing March 25. (Haley Soares)

Bridgers was playing from her apartment, against a galaxy patterned background, armed only with a microphone, a couple guitars and her trademark skeleton sweatshirt.

I started listening to Phoebe Bridgers my first year of college — “Strangers in the Alps,” which was released that year, September of 2017, was the perfect soundtrack for the alternately dreamy and melancholy haze of freshman newness. Since then, Bridgers has played with bands Better Oblivion Community Center with Conner Oberst and Boy Genius with Julien Baker and Lucy Daucus. In June of 2020, she released her sophomore album, “Punisher.” At the 2021 Grammys, she was nominated for 4 awards, including Best New Artist. It’s been a big year, for sure, but a weird one for a musician, when touring and live performance is impossible. Bridgers told her Tulane audience that she even missed heckling. 

Bridgers began with “Garden Song,” the second track off “Punisher,” which is a soft acoustic tune that seems deceptively subdued for a song that references murdering the skinhead next door. She followed with an acoustic version of “Kyoto,” nominated for Best Rock Song and Best Rock Performance at the 2021 Grammys. She followed those up with “Moon Song” and “Chinese Satellite also from “Punisher.”

“Kyoto” is a good example of a song that shows exactly how much Bridgers has grown from her “Strangers in the Alps” days. It’s got a fuller, more complex sound, with heavy drums and trumpet, and it firmly breaks away from the ballads of her past. This bigger sound, however, isn’t suited for the intimacy and limits of a Zoom live stream. 

“Punisher” is, by almost all accounts, a much better album than “Strangers in the Alps” but it was the “Strangers in the Alps” songs that Bridgers performed, “Funeral” and “Motion Sickness,” that retained their gravitas through the medium of cyberspace. Tragically, and quite obviously, Zoom doesn’t hold the same magic as live music, but it proved a decent medium for these simpler, stripped songs. 

Between songs, Finney asked Bridgers questions regarding her music styles and production process, as well as some more lofty questions about her inspirations and thoughts on activism. She talked a little bit about her Grammy nomination, an award ceremony she described as “archaic” but still at the end of the day, a space and time to celebrate music, which is positive. Plus, according to Bridgers, the parties are fun. She cited her producer Tony Berg and friend/occasional bandmate/rumored on-and-off-again boyfriend Oberst as mentors, and mentioned Oberst again when discussing those she’d like to emulate, along with Tom Petty, Jackson Browne, Neil Young and Joni Mitchell. 

After a little over an hour, Bridgers began to finish up. This is another strange aspect of Zoom concerts — they are often shorter, and they feel way shorter from the lack of lead up and come down. As she set up for her last song, she said she wished she could visit colleges in person and joked about graduating highschool with a 1.5 GPA, suggesting that Tulane students should nominate her for an honorary degree. She ended with “I Know The End,” the final track on “Punisher,” an apocalyptic tune that ends with Bridgers screaming over chaotic bass and drums. In the chat, audience members begged Bridgers to do the screams for her live performance, but Bridgers said “No,” apologetically, citing neighbors. One last injustice for the unjust virtual world.

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