Phoebe Bridgers concert wildly entertains

Phoebe Bridgers jams out to a full house at Vina Robles Amphitheater as she rounds out the last leg of her “Reunion” tour in her native Los Angeles. (Arianna Garcia | Daily Trojan)

It is the seminal question in any self-respecting “small-talk” starter pack: 

“So… what kind of music do you like?” 

Often, it feels like a bit of a trap. No matter what you answer, it feels as though you’re giving people the ammunition to size you up in a second. 

For instance, let’s say you go with the trusty “Oh, I like a little bit of everything” response. Seems like a safe bet. No one can pigeonhole or judge you, right? Wrong. This is the musical equivalent of saying you’re “good with anything” when someone asks you what you want to eat. Don’t be that guy. 

Next time this question comes up in conversation (as it inevitably will) and you want to earn some street cred, try responding with the following: “Have you ever heard of Phoebe Bridgers?” 

On Saturday, Aug. 28, Bridgers returned to her native California on her long-awaited “Reunion Tour,” the audience peppered with teenage girls clad in Doc Martens and cool dads sporting skeleton onesies (Bridger’s outfit of choice). 

Many Pharbz — the name that Bridgers fans have proudly bestowed upon themselves — proved their devotion to the artist this past weekend at the Vina Robles Amphitheatre in Paso Robles. Bridgers’ album “Punisher” was released during the pandemic and gained traction with every passing moment, as it provided a soothing backdrop of songs for the cataclysmic period we were collectively experiencing. The irony of the album’s title was not lost, as this was the only reward for the punishment of isolation we were made to endure during this unforeseen calamity.

As “Punisher” played out in its entirety, with the occasional single or track from Bridgers’ first record, “Stranger in the Alps,” sprinkled in, the audience seemed to be acutely aware of the fact that they were no longer listening to these songs alone in their bedrooms. To hear a crowd of thousands singing along to each melancholic melody after a year spent in isolation was soul-stirring, to say the least. It was a brief eternity that soaked into the very bones of every spectator.

There are far too many ways to describe the platinum blonde indie rock songstress who took the internet by storm during the coronavirus pandemic, and yet not nearly enough. 

The internet has humorously characterized her as “Taylor Swift for girls who told kids on the playground that ‘Ring Around the Rosie’ is actually about the black plague.” Sir Elton John described her sophomore effort, “Punisher,” as one of the “reference points” in his life, and joked that he would “hit someone” if she didn’t win at least one of the four Grammys she was nominated for. She’s been deemed a “trailblazer” by Billboard — and received an award to match — at this year’s Women in Music event. 

Bridgers’ influence isn’t limited to music, however. For someone so fond of ghosts (her merchandise is practically a phantom playground), Bridgers is seemingly everywhere. She recently joined the cast of the upcoming A24 horror film “I Saw the TV Glow” from director Jane Schoenbrun, and  teamed up with Los Angeles restaurant HomeState to create a vegan taco benefitting a child welfare charity.

In spite of her renaissance woman reputation, Bridgers shines most brightly in her songwriting career. She is arguably one of the hottest musicians of the 21st century, with her five-star reviews from Rolling Stone and NME — among several other publications — backing that claim.

For many, Bridgers’ voice provides comfort during moments of quiet, making a day, a week, and, eventually, an entire year spent home alone feel a little less lonely. Thematically, Bridgers has compared “Punisher” to “a diary about your crush during the apocalypse” – a 40-minute auditory odyssey that successfully conveys how many of us feel like our problems take precedence over legitimate turmoil. 

It’s a fitting description for someone who sings about “[romanticizing] a quiet life.” Bridgers’ music is an assortment of folk and bedroom pop that simultaneously manages to be both haunting and undeniably comforting, like a warm mug of apple cider amid the eeriness of Halloween. 

There is a singular moment at the end of every single Bridgers show that, for those who have been lucky enough to experience it, is nothing short of cathartic. 

As she launches into the apocalyptic metal folk ballad “I Know the End” that marks, well, the end of “Punisher,” the trumpets build, the drums kick in, and the audience releases  guttural, barbaric screams that could power a thousand suns. 

Perhaps it is the pent-up communal frustration or simply a singularly beautiful expression of solidarity in the face of emotional strife. Whatever the case, it marks the conclusion of a concert unlike any other, where things fall apart and candidly come back together over the course of a single evening.  

So, the next time the inescapable question is posed, you can confidently talk about Miss Bridgers. Perhaps that will suggest that you are prone to bouts of sadness or have merely discovered a highly effective form of free therapy. More than anything, though, it says that you are in touch with your feelings – however messy or uncertain they may be – and love it when those feelings are transformed into really good art.   

Now, this might be awkward, but in the spirit of fair small-talk etiquette, the question has to be asked…

What kind of music do you like?