The rain falls in a dismal mist on Sauchiehall Street tonight, offering the perfect setting for an evening of Phoebe Bridgers’ distinctive Californian sadcore: music that draws you, ineluctably, into its blue velvet darkness.
First up, however, is James Hindle of Glasgow’s The Pooches, who brings a flourish of his band’s power pop jangles to the Broadcast basement.
Performing a stripped-back solo set, Hindle quietly dazzles with just a guitar and the sugary hooks that make Pooches favourites like ‘Heart Attack’ and ‘I’ll Be Gone’ so irresistible.
At times his voice veers into the nasal, owing to a cold, but this lends an appealing vulnerability to earnest lyrics about relationship struggles set against domestic scenes and everyday frustration: “I guess there’s nothing I can do to make you like me.”
Hindle’s romantic angst is buoyed up by sunshine guitar licks, light-as-air melodies and casual swoons; it’s refreshing to see a twist of humour combined with unashamed sentiment.
Wholesome and wistful, short but sweet, these are songs to listen to while sipping a milkshake and feeling a bit heartsick; songs to listen to when you feel too old to be sipping a milkshake and feeling a bit heartsick.
Continuing in this pensive vein, Phoebe Bridgers takes to the stage with her tour partner, close friend and collaborator Harrison Whitford, who provides ethereal ripples of electric guitar and lap steel to Bridgers’ guitar and lead vocals.
The pair are bundled up in hoodies, hats and scarves—a reminder that tonight’s dreich weather is a far cry from Bridgers’ native Los Angeles.
Still, as soon as the brooding chords of opener ‘Smoke Signals’ fill the Broadcast basement, there’s no mistaking the way these songs chime deliciously with our own local brand of Scottish misery, a rain-soaked haunting that feels as clear tonight as Bridgers’ vocals.
While bearing thematic affinities with darker genres, the familiar whiny tones of emo are totally absent here.
There’s nothing quite like Bridgers’ voice: it’s almost pearlescent somehow; gleaming in places where the octave shifts upwards, sounding like a distant tide were rushing through it, suggesting with its hush an oceanic spaciousness softly contained in longing.
It’s by no means showy, but her voice is definitely the centre of these songs: tender, but also burnt at the edges with resolute emotion; effortlessly restrained and yet flawlessly commanding.
The first two songs, ‘Smoke Signals’ and ‘Scott Street’, Bridgers announces, are about the love of her life—“but we’re not together anymore because you can’t have nice things”.
As she runs through tracks from debut LP, Stranger in the Alps, you might consider Bridgers’ lyrics as a form of morbid dissection, paring away the husks of memory and regret; still, with every line, she seems to acquire more power over each story told, finding a certain energy amid that forlorn shadow world of the past—something sweet in the bitter core.
Throughout, Bridgers maintains an easeful rapport with the audience, relaying the personal context for her songs and coolly dismissing the outdated misogyny that continues to worship punk heroes like Sid Vicious.
Her emotional precision is razor sharp, the melancholy intimacy of her lyrics complemented by Whitford’s atmospheric metallic tones; evoking some place dark, distant, poised on the edge.
Sometimes Bridgers appears world-weary beyond her years: touting an affectionate disdain for old flames, singing about serial killers, celebrity ghosts, emotional claustrophobia and the insomniac aftermath of being stoned; but by the end of the gig it’s clear she’s bearing the weight of a generation and translating that millennial pain into something cathartic and strangely uplifting: “we found our way out / of the suicide pact of our family and friends.”
On ‘Georgia’, one of Bridgers’ oldest tracks, that teenage longing for the skeletal presence of someone you love is expressed with increasingly raw crescendo, akin to those beautiful, transcendent cries that put Julien Baker on the map.
While the likes of ‘Georgia’ and ‘Funeral’ are largely acoustic, Bridgers gets more electric towards the end of the set, donning a sparkling black guitar for ‘Demi Moore’ and a hypnotic cover of Tom Petty’s ‘It’ll All Work Out’.
Every song is met with distinctive enthusiasm from the audience—sometimes even a subtle singalong—so although the mood is sombre, the love is pretty real.
“It’s emo times right now”, Bridgers admits towards the end of her set, closing with ‘Motion Sickness’ and slowing down its usual rollicking rhythms to a mellower, more reflective rendition.
Although her debut record has only been out for a month, comparisons to Bridgers’ contemporary heroes (Conor Oberst, Ryan Adams, Pinegrove) are unusually well-deserved, and what’s more you can trace the folk and post-punk legacy back to Neil Young, Nick Cave, Elliott Smith and Joni Mitchell, with her introspective, darkly-inflected sprawl of suburban ennui.
If we’re living in emo times, losing our youth to soul-devouring sadness, at least the music is still good—and tonight much appreciated.
Words: Maria Sledmere
Photos: Brendan Waters