May 25, 2022

On a horrible night for America, Phoebe Bridgers gives Tampa balm for a seemingly endless cycle of pain

Phoebe Bridgers plays Cuban Club in Ybor City, Florida ob May 24, 2022. - Photo by Marlo Miller
Photo by Marlo Miller
Phoebe Bridgers plays Cuban Club in Ybor City, Florida ob May 24, 2022.
On Tuesday morning, Sophia Missigman said Phoebe Bridgers’ music feels like free therapy.

“She doesn’t hold back in her lyrics. She doesn’t try and sugarcoat anything. She just says it how it is, even if it’s not good or comfortable stuff to talk about, she’ll just put it in a song,” she told Creative Loafing Tampa Bay.

Together with four friends, the 21-year-old from Alachua County arrived at 5:30 a.m. to be first in line to get into Bridgers’ sold-out Ybor City show, the Los Angeles singer-songwriter’s local headlining debut and first gig in the area since 2017 when she played a 1:45 p.m. set for about 100 people at Gasparilla Music Festival.

“I mean, this isn’t free,” she added, pointing at a sprawl of blankets, setup outside gates to the Cuban Club parking lot. “But it’s cheaper.”

Little did Missigman know how much she and the Tampa crowd might’ve needed some therapy on Tuesday night.

Eight hours after Missigman and friends set their blankets down, a gunman nearly 1,300 miles away in Uvalde, Texas marched into an elementary school and killed at least 19 kids and two adults. Seven hours after that, the president gave a speech marked by familiar, tired, and exhausting calls for gun control. A few minutes after Biden’s remarks ended, Bridgers took the stage in Tampa and played a concert where more than 4,000 people soaked in a 16-song set that played like balm, temporary as it was, for another American community that’s grown accustomed to pain.

At Bridgers’ concerts, every tune is a singalong. While set-opener “Motion Sickness” is about another monster, listening to a chorus of teens, tweens and 30-somethings belt out, “I can hardly feel anything, I hardly feel anything at all” on Tuesday night felt particularly eerie.

Still—thanks in part to a crowd mic way up in the mix next to Bridgers’ haunting, flawless vocal on “Garden Song”—it was impossible to feel alone.

“Impeccable vibes, thanks for hanging out and being goth in the heat” Bridgers, who is on the road supporting her Grammy-nominated 2020 album Punisher, deadpanned to the crowd before sending them pogoing into “Kyoto.”

The temperature—a high of 91 degrees at noon, about 81 degrees by the time Bridgers hit the stage—definitely made itself known in Tampa, with no less than half a dozen fans going down in the crowd throughout the evening. Opener Charlie Hickey stopped his 40-minute slot several times, sometimes at length, to make sure people in the audience got medical attention or water. Shortly after starting into “Punisher,” the fourth song in her set, Bridgers also cut the music to make sure a fan up front was taken care of.
A capacity-crowd takes in Phoebe Bridgers' set at the Cuban Club in Ybor City, Florida on May 24, 2022. - Photo by Marlo Miller
Photo by Marlo Miller
A capacity-crowd takes in Phoebe Bridgers' set at the Cuban Club in Ybor City, Florida on May 24, 2022.

When people spend more than half the day in the summer sun, waiting to get into a general admission show before staking out positions close to the stage, their bodies are bound to give out. The crew couldn’t have tossed out enough free water. Bridgers—who, that afternoon, also bought Italian ice for everyone waiting in line—was not shy about stopping “Savior Complex” or “Scott Street” (where she let fans sing the outros). She took another pause after “ICU” so that fans could get help. The message was clear: nothing, not even the show, was more important that taking care of the folks in the crowd.

And when a Pride flag was passed to the stage before a smoldering run through “Halloween” that featured sexy vocals from guitarist Harrison Whitford, Bridgers—who’s never shied from a her activism—told the crowd she had their back in another way.

“Fuck DeSantis,” she said after bringing the flag on stage and draping it on the keyboard. She then asked the crowd to say “gay” on the count of three, and added another “Fuck that motherfucker” for good measure.

Bridgers made no mention of Tuesday's Texas shooting in her stage banter, but didn’t shy away from basic issues about life and human rights in the slightest.

Before a Danelecto-driven take on “Chinese Satellite”—a song kind of about getting the fuck outta wherever you are—she explained that the song details times when she walked through a bunch of disgusting people with picket signs. The 27-year-old also shared that she had an abortion in October, then mentioned reproductive rights funds like Mariposa, Lilith and Planned Parenthood, and encouraged the crowd to support them with money (can’t be said enough in this state where elected officials can’t seem to keep their laws out of vaginas).
She explained that “ICU” is about disagreeing with family members and the family of people you love over politics, “especially when it’s not even about politics anymore, like when it’s about white supremacy and stuff.”

Every Tucker Carlson-ed in-law from the Cuban Club to Clearwater Beach probably felt it when the entire crowd sang back the lyric, “I hate your mom, I hate it when she opens her mouth. It’s amazing to me how much you can say when you don’t know what you’re talking about.”

And for all the musicality oozing from the set—JJ Kirkpatrick was especially convincing on “Savior Complex,” and Bridgers’ Gruska-level appreciation of pedal board vocal manipulation is A-plus—it was lyrics that landed with the most force on Tuesday night.

It’s hard to forget the first time you heard Stranger In the Alps slow-burner “Funeral,” but listening to Bridgers deliver the line, “I woke up in my childhood bed. Wishing I was someone else, feeling sorry for myself, when I remembered someone's kid is dead” on Tuesday sent shivers down your spine.

Averi Kremposky, a Gainesville journalist who was among the group that arrived before sunrise to camp out for that first-in-line spot, told CL that an artist's vulnerability onstage is what draws her to the live experience. Mia Minkin, who waited 14 hours with Kremposky and Missigman just to get into the show, talked about the courage and strength it took for Bridgers to expose once-heralded songwriter Ryan Adams as an abuser—especially at a time when her career was just getting off the ground.

“It’s a lot for [“Motion Sickness”]  a song about such a personal experience to just blow up,” Minkin said. “Now that's a topic that she's getting asked to speak on when she shouldn't have to be the one to do it. But to take on that responsibility and start the process of other people feeling comfortable enough to come forward—I think it's pretty admirable.”
Mia Minkin and Averi Kremposky (second, third from left) and Sophia Missigman (right) arrived at 5:30 a.m. on May 24, 2022 to be first in line to get into Bridgers’ sold-out Ybor City show. - Photo by Ray Roa
Photo by Ray Roa
Mia Minkin and Averi Kremposky (second, third from left) and Sophia Missigman (right) arrived at 5:30 a.m. on May 24, 2022 to be first in line to get into Bridgers’ sold-out Ybor City show.

In her 2019 comments about Adams, the songwriter dismantled the myth of an untouchable Americana songwriting god and exposed him for the abuser he is. Admirable, yes, but so much more than that, too.

Bridgers led by example on Tuesday night; she brought her fans back to live music, and asked everybody to take a breath when their neighbors went down in the heat. She spoke to fans' fears and frustration, and said that it was promising to see the youth movement so angry and ready to act.

More than an idol on a Tuesday, Bridgers was simply a friend.

We're living in a country where a gun has more rights than a uterus. Even after this last week of mass murder, elected officials will hold us hostage to please lunatics and lobbyists who like high-powered rifles and open carry more than knowing that children can be safe from guns at school. In Florida, we can't talk to kids about being gay. Tampeños have to watch a mayor—whose campaign is funded mostly by development interests—say that rent control measures are off the table as a tool to keep people from being evicted from their homes.

In a lot of ways, being alive in this country means living in an endless cycle of pain, numbness and hopelessness.

Sometimes, all you need is a friend to get to the next day.

“I know it doesn’t feel safe to be in the world right now—actually, I should say ‘America’—it’s just so gross,” she said before playing a solo acoustic version of “Me & My Dog” by her supergroup Boygenius. “But fuck ‘em. This one’s for my boys.”

See a setlist and more photos below. Listen to a playlist from the show on Tidal.

Setlist
Motion Sickness
Garden Song
Kyoto
Punisher
Halloween
Smoke Signals
Chinese Satellite
Moon Song
Scott Street
Savior Complex
ICU
Funeral
Sidelines
Graceland Too
The End Is Near

Me & My Dog
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On a horrible night for America, Phoebe Bridgers gives Tampa balm for a seemingly endless cycle of pain
Photo by Marlo Miller
On a horrible night for America, Phoebe Bridgers gives Tampa balm for a seemingly endless cycle of pain
Photo by Marlo Miller
On a horrible night for America, Phoebe Bridgers gives Tampa balm for a seemingly endless cycle of pain
Photo by Marlo Miller
On a horrible night for America, Phoebe Bridgers gives Tampa balm for a seemingly endless cycle of pain
Photo by Marlo Miller
On a horrible night for America, Phoebe Bridgers gives Tampa balm for a seemingly endless cycle of pain
Photo by Marlo Miller

Join the Creative Loafing Tampa Bay Press Club

At a time when local-based reporting is critical, support from our readers is essential to our future.