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Archive for the ‘Phoebe Bridgers’ Category

SOUNDTRACK: BETTER OBLIVION COMMUNITY CENTER-Tiny Desk Concert #844 (April 24, 2019).

This Tiny Desk Concert marks another one of those rare occasions where I’ve seen a band live BEFORE their Tiny Desk.

I saw BOCC on April 2.   I assume that this Tiny Desk was recorded around that time (bands usually play DC right before or after Philly), but it takes a week or so to get online.

I really enjoyed the BOCC concert, which rocked more than I thought it would.

But I enjoyed this Tiny Desk even more than that because Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers are having so much fun with this show.  Truth be told they had a lot of fun at our show too, but they experiment more here.  They also have lots of experience at the Tiny Desk.

When this fabulous new duo arrived for their Tiny Desk, it felt like old friends coming home. Both Conor Oberst and Phoebe Bridgers are Tiny Desk alum. Conor’s first Tiny Desk Concert came in 2014. Phoebe has come by twice in the past few years, first as a solo artist in 2017 and then as part of another creative and collaborative endeavor with Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker as boygenius in 2018. So, unlike the bundle of nerves that often come with an appearance at the NPR offices, this one was fun and, at times, silly, like when Conor Oberst sang into a fake rubber microphone on the other end of a chopstick that was sitting on my desk. But there was nothing trivial about the songs or the collaboration.

The first song starts off fairly seriously.  They play their (only?) hit, “Dylan Thomas” with Conor on electric guitar and Phoebe and backing guitarist Christian Lee Hutson on acoustic.  It sounds great–possibly even better than the record.

when their voices intertwine, there’s a radiance that often feels joyful even while singing words like the ones on their opening number, “Dylan Thomas.”

“I’m getting used to these dizzy spells
I’m taking a shower at the Bates Motel
I’m getting greedy with this private hell
I’ll go it alone, but that’s just as well”

For the second song, “Exception to the Rule,” Conor and Phoebe put down their guitars and simply sing (Conor into that fake microphone).  Christian plays guitar and Emily Retsas plays an omnichord.  As Emily sets up the “toy” Phoebe says, we’re going to set it to avoid choreography.”  Their voices really do sound great together, even with this ultra-minimal backing music.  The chorus is catchy, too!

For the final song, “My City” Bob Boilen himself comes out swinging a plastic whistling tube.

So I was whipping a corrugated, ribbed plastic hose over my head, creating a high pitched siren sound, trying to blend in with Christian’s electronics on “My City.” It was my Tiny Desk performance debut, and I was thrilled to be part of this magical act.

Conor and Phoebe pick up acoustic guitars and Christian plays a pocket piano (I gather).  This song feels the most like a folk song and again, they mostly sing together.  But Phoebe gets a solo verse near the end and that little change make a big difference in the overall flow of the song.

For the most part this is a quiet song, but the buildup for the end is pretty great.

[READ: April 20, 2019] “Brothers and Sisters Around the World”

This story is set in Madagascar.  Michel is a French-Italian white man who is married to the narrator–an African American woman.  They live in Cannes where it is always sunny.  But on vacation they travel the world to get hotter and wilder.  Islands are what Michel prefers.  “Any place where the people are the color of different grades of coffee.”

She says he loves her for all the wrong reasons.  He thinks she has some of that island wildness inside of her, but she grew up in Massachusetts and has a “steely Protestant core.”  Her parents never thought it would last.  But they have been together for eight years and they have a child.

As the story opens, he is telling her about how he drove “those two little whores” on the Zodiac.  “You should have seen their titties bounce!”

She admits:

It’s no surprise to me when Michel tries to share the ribald thoughts that run though the labyrinth of his Roman Catholic mind.  He doubtless thought that I would get a kick out of hearing about his boat ride with a pair of African sluts.

(more…)

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[ATTENDED: April 2, 2019] Better Oblivion Community Center

I’m not often on the pulse of what is trending in music.  Sometimes I’m ahead, often I’m not all that interested.  But every once in a while it converges.  And thus on April 2 I was part of one of the hippest crowds in town.

I got there pretty early as I knew it was sold out (it sold out very quickly).  And I was standing pretty close to Pheobe Bridgers.  Earlier this year, I did not get to see the boygenius shows (they didn’t come close enough to us).  But I have seen each of the women solo twice (this is my second Bridgers show and yes, it counts).

There was a photo-op when you walked in.  A life-size cutout for you to take an ID photo for the BOCC.  I declined to do that, but I did get the fun squeezable stress-house.

The band came out and they started playing songs from the album.  I didn’t know the album all that well (I was amazed at how many people knew all the words), but I’d enjoyed what I’d heard.   I expected a kind of folk-rock show.  I was in no way prepared for how much the show rocked and how much fun the show would be.  There were even beach balls thrown around! (more…)

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[ATTENDED: April 2, 2019] Christian Lee Hutson

I had not heard of Christian Lee Hutson before this show. I had no idea that he was in the Better Oblivion Community Center band (multi-instrumentalist) or that he has written songs for BOCC and boygenius (and that Phoebe Bridgers was producing his album).  So he has a lot of connections in this Community.

He looks rather Southern California.  With his sweeping hair and good looks he could be an extra on the new Veronica Mars series).  But he sings in a lovely accent-less voice. His voice and his guitar lines are clean and classic.  His melodies sound ageless, aside from his more contemporary lyrics (like on Northsiders):

We were so pretentious then
Didn’t trust the government
Said that we were communists
And thought that we invented it

Morrissey apologists
Amateur psychologists
Serial monogamists
We went to different colleges

(more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: boygenius-Tiny Desk Concert #805 (November 16, 2018).

boygenius have been getting a ton of absolutely deserved press for combining the amazing talents of Julien Baker, Phoebe Bridgers and Lucy Dacus.

I wasn’t that upset when I read that the three weren’t touring near me (the tour was Lucy, Julie, Phoebe and then boygenius) because I had seen all three of them fairly recently.

In fact, I saw Phoebe in July, Lucy in April and Julien a few days after Lucy (as well as in April 2017).  But then I heard exactly how the tour was structured and that the boygenius part at the end was just stunning.  My only (sort of) consolation, was that they didn’t tour anywhere near me, so it’s not like it was my fault I didn’t go.

And I first heard about all three of them from Tiny Desk Concerts.

The group is new, but all of the members of boygenius — Julien Baker, Lucy Dacus and Phoebe Bridgers — are Tiny Desk Concert alumae. In fact, Julien has been behind my desk twice before. So when the usual nerve-racking session was over and I shouted out, “So, is it any easier the second or third time?” I had to laugh when I got a resounding “No!” from all of them.

Boygenius only has six total tunes, all from their just-released, self-titled EP, and here they perform half of that catalog. What you get at the Tiny Desk is a frailer version of these more fleshed-out songs from a band that is likely quite temporary.

All three songs are delicate and lovely–somewhat belying at least Lucy and Phoebe’s ability to totally rock out

“Souvenir” opens with Julien singing the first verse while she gently plays mandolin.  Phoebe plays guitar and sings the second verse.  Lucy (no instrument) sings  a wonderful harmony with Phoebe in the second part of her verse and then sings the end solo.  All three sing the end.  It’s amazing how wonderful their voices sound together–they fit like a practiced team.

Bob asks if they have a joke.  Lucy attempts a cupcake joke and messes it up.  “I shouldn’t have gotten into that.  You baited me.”  Phoebe asks where the king keeps his armies (I’m not giving that away) and no one laughs (although I thought it was great).  Lucy says Jokes are not our forte.  To which Phoebe corrects her, It’s totally my forte, Lucy.

On the second song, “Me & My Dog” Phoebe (whose speaking voice is so much deeper than her singing voice its uncanny) sings the first verse and plays guitar.  Julien is on piano.  There’s gorgeous oohs from Lucy and Julien and then all three of them harmonize on the chorus.

For their closing tune at the Tiny Desk, “Ketchum, ID,” Julien, Phoebe and Lucy each take a verse.

Only Phoebe plays guitar on this one.  And they harmonize beautifully on the chorus.

Lucy’s verse ends the song with the line, “Let’s dissolve the band, move to Idaho.” And the chorus to the song, in stunning harmony, echoes the mileage of the lifestyle, how they live and how they met: “I am never anywhere / Anywhere I go / When I’m home I’m never there / Long enough to know.”

This trio is a special gift to us all in 2018.

There is a part of me that thinks it would be best if they simply made this lovely EP, did some shows and dissolved.  What a great stamp to make on music.

And yet I can’t help but think that we all need more from them.  We should just be grateful we got what we did.

Also, listen to their interview on All Songs Considered for more insight and a full retelling of the muffin joke.

[READ: December 14 2015] “Jelly and Jack”

This story is set in 1985, which is what allows its simple premise to be executed so well.

Jelly is a woman who calls men.  Not as a job or for sexual gratification, exactly.  But just to talk to  them.

The details are a little sketchy about who she calls, but it appears to be people she doesn’t know herself but knows about because of other men.  Some of the men are annoyed by her calls.  Some are angry, some even curse at her.  But others are willing to talk to her. (more…)

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[ATTENDED: October 23, 2018] Courtney Barnett

S. and I saw Courtney Barnett back in May when her latest album Tell Me How You Really Feel just came out.  She did a few shows where she played the whole album in its entirety.  Our show sold out very quickly and I was lucky to get tickets.

This time around she played the larger Fillmore and did not sell out the venue.  Is it better to play a small club and sell out, or a larger one and not sell out?  I’m still not sure why this one didn’t.

So why would we go to see someone five months after we had just seen her?

Well, primarily because I thought that this show would be different–bigger, longer and a bit more fun. Not that the first wasn’t fun–it was.  But at that show, she had a mission to play that album and make us like it.  This time, we already had the album and we liked it, we just wanted to hear it again!

And man was this show terrific.

I assumed she would not play the album straight through again.  But I shouldn’t have been surprised that she opened with the first two songs.  The stage was bathed in red (terrible for pictures so I didn’t bother trying to get any).  However, I love watching her play guitar–her technique is so bizarre to me and yet it sounds wonderful.  It must hurt like the dickens.  You can see her playing with no pick very clearly in this clip from “City Looks Pretty.”  (more…)

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SOUNDTRACK: PHOEBE BRIDGERS-Live at Newport Folk Festival (July 28, 2018).

I saw Phoebe Bridgers three days after this set at Newport Folk Festival (I had no idea).  She plays five more songs at my show than here (yay, me).

The size of the crowd does’t seem to intimate her in any way and she sounds just as great (and intimate) as she did in the small club where I saw her.

A few songs into her sun-drenched Saturday Newport Folk set, Phoebe Bridgers paused and proclaimed, “I am a puddle of sweat.” It was a one-liner that primed those huddled at the Harbor Stage for the 2018 Slingshot artist’s catalog: details delivered with specificity and a subtle sense of humor.

I will say the one thing about this recording is that I don;t think you can hear all of the percussion as clearly as I could at Asbury Lanes.

The show started much the same as mine did with a beautiful languid version of “Smoke Signals” and a try-to-hold-back-the-tears reading of “Funeral.”

For the next song, “Georgia,” she brought out songwriter Christian Lee Hutson who is “going to help me sing harmonies.”  Whether it was the song itself of Hutson’s addition, but Bridgers’ voice really soars on this song.

Even Bridgers’ stage banter reflected her striking style, mixing straightforward address and astute observation. “This song is about how every time I smoke weed, I remember why I don’t smoke weed,” she said of the plainspoken plea “Demi Moore.”

She continued: “I face plant and my brain is erased for many hours and I think I’m thinking too loud.”

There’s some gorgeous harmonies on the darkly sweet song, “Killer.”  Then she played “Steamroller” solo on the acoustic guitar.

Later, she called “Steamroller,” a devastatingly candid cut from her 2015 EP, Killer, “another dark love song, thanks.”

Introducing Gillian Welch’s song “Everything Is Free” she said. “This is my friend Marshall.  We’re going to sing my favorite song about music streaming ever written.”  I loved hearing this live and it sounds just as solid here.

Up next was a song she did not play at my show.  She welcomed Christian Lee Hutson (playing guitar with Jenny Lewis) and Sharon Silva (from The Wild Reeds) played bass with me for exactly one week and I waited for a really bassist…Emily.  Chris wrote this song for me.”  The chorus goes “”lets get the old band back together again, and there’s even a line, “with Emily on bass, it doesn’t feel the same.”

The crowd reacts strongly, as they should to her awesome song “Motion Sickness.”

Despite its venom, it’s a song that unspools with a sonic ease that feel refreshing, even for an overheated festival audience.

The songs sounds great live and she holds a 17-second note just for kicks.  The sets ends (as did ours) with “Scott Street.”  She says “This is about L.A. where we live;  where it’s hot all the time.”  It’s a quiet song, sounds and represents her music pretty perfectly–quiet, sad, with clever lyrics.

At our show, we got two encores after this, so again, yay for us.  But this is a great example of her live show.

[READ: April 22, 2016] “Playing with Dynamite”

Back in February of 2017, I posted about an essay by George Saunders from 2009 in which he remembers John Updike “Remembering Updike“.  He says that back in 1992:

 It was going to be in Tina Brown’s first issue and they marked this occasion by running two stories contrasting the new writers (Saunders) with the established.  Of course the establishment writer was going to be Updike.  Saunders said he was chagrined because he knew the contrast would go something like this:

Wonderful, established, powerful representative of the Old Guard kicks the butt of the flaky, superficial, crass poseurish New Guy.  Saunders’ story was “Offloading for Mrs. Schwartz.”

I can see why they paired the George Saunders story with this particular Updike story.  Both stories deal with grief and memory loss, although Updike’s does so in a very different way.  On the other hand, their writing styles are so very different that it’s nearly impossible to compare the two stories.

The story begins with an interesting image from childhood: “one aspect of childhood Fanshawe had not expected to return in old age was the mutability of things–the willingness of a chair, say, to become a leggy animal in the corner of his vision.”  But living now “in death’s immediate neighborhood” he allowed that things like that might happen and it wouldn’t be the end of the world.

There is then an episode in Fanshawe’s day when his wife, who was younger and more spry than he, passed him going down the stairs.  She caught her heel on her dress and fell down the stairs.  It was only after all the guests had left that she said to him, “Wasn’t I good, not to tell everybody how you pushed me me?” (more…)

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[ATTENDED: July 31, 2018] Phoebe Bridgers

I was supposed to see Phoebe Bridgers back in February at World Cafe Live.  En route to the show I got really sick and had to bail.  I was pretty bummed.  But how exciting that she came back to the area just a few months later!

The opener for that show was Soccer Mommy, who I’d still like to see (although Angelica Garcia was terrific).

Phoebe Bridgers isn’t really someone I should like–she sings slow, kinda depressing songs.  In fact the first song I heard from her, “Smoke Signals” was an interesting litmus test for me.  I loved the sound of the song (it’s so Twin Peaks).  The lyrics were great (referencing Motorhead and David Bowie) and I really liked the melody.  But I found the pacing kind of slow and the song felt really long.

Then I heard “Motion Sickness” and I completely loved it.  I love the lyric

I have emotional motion sickness
Somebody roll the windows down
There are no words in the English language
I could scream to drown you out

I find her voice to be very beautiful but also a little peculiar.  There’s something about her delivery/enunciation that I don’t understand.  It’s not an accent (she doesn’t have one when she speaks), but it’s the way she enunciates certain vowels….maybe.

Anyway, I assumed that it would be her with her guitar.  But she had a whole band (and how awesome is that drum head logo for a folk singer?).  She and bassist Anna Butterss (who has wonderful backing vocals) wore black suits with ties, which was cool and was nicely set off by their very blonde hair (Phoebe explained that her hair has been many different colors over the years and she likes this one).

They opened with “Smoke Signals” and it’s evident that I underestimated how good this song is, the way it stretches out.  I loved the little noises and effects that drummer Marshall Vore added to the song.  About two seconds into the song, the woman in front of me took a picture of Bridgers and instantly posted it online with a text overlay that said “an angel from heaven.”

It was followed by one of the saddest songs I know: “Funeral.”

I’m singing at a funeral tomorrow
For a kid a year older than me
And I’ve been talking to his dad; it makes me so sad
When I think too much about it I can’t breathe

….

And last night I blacked out in my car
And I woke up in my childhood bed
Wishing I was someone else, feeling sorry for myself
When I remembered someone’s kid is dead

And yet as you can see by many of these pictures, she smiled and laughed a lot between songs.  In an interview she said of her lyrics, “I don’t consider myself a miserable person, but that’s the place I write from.”

This is totally not my type of lyric, but man she sings it so beautifully.  Most of her song mix that emotion with some humor (this one wisely doesn’t).  An example of her humor comes in the title of her album Stranger in the Alps which is taken from the edited-for-TV version of The Big Lebowski in which Walter’s “Do you see what happens when you fuck a stranger in the ass” is changed to “Do you see what happens when you find a stranger in the Alps?”

The show slowly picked up tempo and volume.  “Georgia” sailed along with Harrison Whitford’s slide guitar echoing.  And for “Would You Rather,” Whitford sang the backing vocals.  She told us the song is about her brother.  And she told us he long story which was pretty shockingly sad.  But she assured us that all parties were fine now.

Bridgers mostly played acoustic guitar but for “Chelsea” she brought out her “cheap but cool looking” sparkly electric guitar.

She told us at some point that yes, indeed, she and Angelica went to school together.  They were friends and even played in a band together back in school.

After a few more songs, she and drummer Marshall Vore duetted on Gilliam Welch’s song “Everything is Free.”  I didn’t know the song but it was great and their voices sounded wonderful together.

Then she said that since she was in Asbury Park she had to play a Bruce Springsteen song.  Her band left and as the crowd cheered, she played “I’m on Fire.”  She’s the second performer I’ve seen cover this song recently.  I wonder why they chose this particular song which I think is one of his lamer (and sexist) lyrics.

The crowd was pretty hyped for that, but we were even more psyched to hear “Motion Sickness.”

Introducing “Scott Street” she noted about this song, “they’re all sad, but this one’s especially sad.”  It turns out that many of the songs are about her ex-boyfriend and current drummer Vore.

Keyboardist Nick White added some nice flourishes here and there, especially on the quieter moments.

And then Phoebe left for an encore break.  I was pretty sure the set wouldn’t be very long.  She has only the one album out and it’s only got 10 songs on it, after all.

She came out for the encore and played a gorgeous version of “You Missed My Heart” a cover of a song by Mark Kozelek & Jimmy LaValle that is as powerful and poignant as the songs she writes.   I assumed it was her own song on the record.  Midway through the song she sat down in front of the drums and sang plaintively

I asked him one more time, this time pulled out my shiv
Struck him in the back and I pulled it out slow
And I watched him fall down, and as the morning sun rose
He looked at me and said
“You missed my heart, you missed my heart
You got me good; I knew you would
But you missed my heart, you missed my heart”

I really love the way the lyrics twist that title phrase in the next verses:

I chased her up the stairs and I pinned her to the ground
And underneath her whimpering I could hear the sirens sound
I rattled off a list of all the things I missed
Like going to the movies with her and the way she kissed me

Driving into downtown Wheeling, showing her off
Backyard barbecues and reunions in the park
I said I missed her skin and when she started laughing
And while I clenched down on her wrist, she said “that’s quite a list
But there’s one thing you missed
“You missed my heart, you missed my heart
That’s quite a list, but what you really missed
You missed my heart, you missed my heart

That song meant she’d played everything off of her album.  But the crowd was still buzzing and the woman in front of me kept nudging her fella hoping Phoebe would play the next song which was a romping cover of Sheryl Crow’s “If It Makes You Happy.”

It was the kind of lighthearted but earnest ending, almost a joke given how dark her songs were, that perfectly capped off the show.  A show full of powerfully personal songs with a lyrical twist (and charming crowd interactions)  that kept the show from being maudlin.

And of course, Bridgers’ voice sounded amazing.  You could hear every whisper and breath in that quiet bowling alley.

It was crazy going from the noise of My Bloody Valentine last night to the chill folk of Phoebe Bridgers.

I’m so glad I got to see her before she really takes off.

 

  1. Smoke Signals *
  2. Funeral *
  3. Georgia *
  4. Would You Rather *
  5. Chelsea *
  6. Demi Moore *
  7. Killer *
  8. Steamroller
  9. Everything Is Free (Gillian Welch)
  10. I’m on Fire (Bruce Springsteen)
  11. Motion Sickness *
  12. Scott Street *
  13. encore
  14. You Missed My Heart (Mark Kozelek & Jimmy LaValle) *
  15. If It Makes You Happy (Sheryl Crow)

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