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Phoebe Bridgers' Fleeting Snapshots of Life - April 26, 2018 - SF Weekly
SF Weekly

Phoebe Bridgers’ Fleeting Snapshots of Life

Phoebe Bridgers (Chromatic PR)

Phoebe Bridgers’ debut album — the haunted, beguiling, and plaintively beautiful Stranger in the Alps — is filled with awed allusions to the iconic power of musicians and their legacies. She namechecks Lemmy, Bowie, and the Smiths, and the hushed manner in which she mentions their names illustrates how much she appreciates the transformative power of music and songs.

Yet for someone who is so steeped in the mythology and grandeur of music, she takes a surprisingly irreverent evaluation of her own music, which is imbued with pathos and sadness. Bridgers’ vivid narratives — which relate tales of being jilted by lovers and mourning young deaths — capture and engage listeners in a way that makes them pine for more details. Those details, however, are rarely as illuminating as one might hope.    

“People approach me all the time and ask me how someone could have hurt me like that, or how I was coping with this terrible breakup,” says Bridgers, who performs at Bottom of the Hill on Friday. “Most of the time, I tell them that I haven’t thought about that person in years. I’m sorry to burst their bubble, but these aren’t scarring events. I feel like it’s beautiful to take pictures of moments. Songs should capture how you feel at the time — I kind of move on from them after I’m done.”

Regardless of how Bridgers views her own songs, they are undeniably powerful. “Funeral” is a poignant ballad about the death of an acquaintance, and how that can put one’s woes in perspective. “Killer” is a piano elegy about the struggle to control one’s sordid desires and “Smoke Signals”—which contains many of the references to other musicians—is a live documentation of a relationship in its breakdown.

Bridgers’ songs are articulate without being reductive and lamenting without being hopeless. She has clearly studied at the altar of the great singer-songwriters, which gives her songs a unique authority for someone who is still just 23 years old. Her music is also illustrative of someone who has been planning her whole, young life for this moment.

“I always knew I wanted to be a musician,” Bridgers says. “I didn’t really ever consider any other type of career.”

Bridgers’ precociousness and drive quickly caught the attention of indie rock’s royalty. She has collaborated with Ryan Adams and toured in support of the War on Drugs, Bon Iver and Julien Baker. It also has allowed to work with her idols, including Conor Oberst, who takes part in chilling duet on Stranger in the Alps called “Would You Rather.”

“I wanted a duet, and he had the most famous, recognizable voice I could think of,” Bridgers says. “He didn’t really know who I was at the time, but he agreed to do the song and we’ve actually become really great friends since.”

After years of paying homage to music’s titans, Bridgers is making her own claim to fame. She is currently on her first headlining tour, which has featured a string of sold-out shows, including her Friday gig.

Her success has engendered the usual nerves among young musicians — immediately after writing a song that captures everything she feels, she says she immediately begins to “freak out” and wonder if she’ll ever a write a good song again.

But it seems very likely that the talented and focused Bridgers will follow up on her sterling debut with a long and successful career — the kind of career where her name is the one mentioned in songs with wonderment.

Phoebe Bridgers with Lomelda and Harrison Whitford, Friday, April 27, 8:30 p.m., at Bottom of the Hill, 1233 17th St. $13-$15; bottomofthehill.com