In the middle of her set at The Gothic Theatre in Denver last Friday, Phoebe Bridgers introduced a cover of Tom Petty’s “It’ll All Work Out” by saying, “This is another sad one.” With exception of one or two, all of her songs are sad. But unlike the other melancholic crooners she takes after (Elliott Smith, Joni Mitchell, and Conor Oberst), she’s self-aware of just how sad her music is in a way that lends an endearing bite to the songs.
The pop-sensible trio Daddy Issues opened the night, letting their unique brand of wry, infectious, and dark emo and grunge-pop brighten up the room before the sad songs kicked in. Their irresistible two-part harmonies reached a bright crescendo on the brooding, grungy cover of Don Henley’s "The Boys Of Summer." The song started out in rhythm with the original, but descended into a dark groove as they made the song their own while also maintaining its top-down, sunset-bound energy that makes it such a timeless hit. The band’s bright, infectious sound was a perfect introduction before Bridgers and her band dampened the eyes of a full theater of fans.
Bridgers has been on a steady rise over the last three years, due in part to the Killer EP recorded and released in 2015 through Ryan Adams’ label PAX AM. She’s also toured with Conor Oberst, Bon Iver, and Julien Baker. She’s not just another songwriter “making it” by having famous friends and collaborators though. Her immense talent as a songwriter and performer sent her debut album Stranger In The Alps to the top of numerous “Best of 2017” lists, asserting her as one of the year’s most promising new artists. She’s currently on her first headlining tour, aptly called “The Farewell Tour.”
Her set on Friday night included her debut album in its entirety, as well as two covers and some deeper cuts. The live versions of these songs often left a more powerful impression than they did on the album, flourishing with added instrumentation that rendered them more gripping and upbeat. Tasteful, subdued drum fills from Marshall Vore and ambient, drawling guitar and pedal steel from Harrison Whitford turned songs that were formerly shadowy, acoustic crooners into blossoming, intricate arrangements that left a potent impression on the audience. The formerly stripped-down “Funeral” was re-imagined as a slow-burning rock song, with her full live band adding additional layers onto it’s already vibrant presence. “Would You Rather” received a similar live treatment, only this time it was sung as a duet with Whitford instead of Conor Oberst.
Bridgers’ aforementioned cover of the Tom Petty deep cut “It’ll All Work Out” was one of the set’s strongest moments. “I wouldn’t recommend tuning a baritone guitar even lower, but I love it, because it makes everything sound super emo!” she joked, before transforming a glistening, lighter-waving arena rocker into a melancholic, shadowy anthem that aims straight for the heart.
She closed the set with “Scott Street,” and towards the end, she sent two massive black balloons filled with confetti into the audience. She encored with her haunting cover of Mark Kozelek’s “You Missed My Heart,” as well as a surprise cover of “If It Makes You Happy” by Sheryl Crow; a song that declares, “If it makes you happy/ Then why the hell are you so sad?” The cover ended the show on a self-aware, tongue-in-cheek note that was incredibly refreshing. For someone who writes songs capable of levelling you with their sadness, seeing Phoebe Bridgers live never felt like anything shy of a celebration.
For a full gallery of photos from this show, click here.
All photos, videos, and embedded tracks per the artists featured and those credited. This feature was edited for brevity and clarity by BolderBeat.