Live Review: Phoebe Bridgers – Islington Assembly Hall 23/05/18

In the space of eight months, Phoebe Bridgers went from playing the small St. Pancras Church in London to acting as the main support for Bon Iver at the Eventim Apollo. Now one of the most talked about artists across indie music publications, a critically acclaimed debut album found Bridgers near the top of many ‘Albums of 2017’ lists. Tonight, she plays her biggest headline show to date at a completely sold out Islington Assembly Hall.

Previously performing with long-term best friend and bandmate Harrison Whitford (who provides support for tonight’s show), Bridgers now tours with additional members Marshall Vore (drums) and Fiona Brice (multi-instrumentalist). Opening with ‘Smoke Signals’, the impact of Bridgers’ expanded set up is instantly evident. The song benefits from some haunting backing vocals and density provided by the strings.

Illuminated by purple beams on an otherwise totally dark stage, the lighting reflects the eeriness present in much of her record. Stranger in the Alps is an album of deathly contemplation, dark imagery and trembling affection. Sonically sweet, impeccable vocals from Bridgers are all the more striking for the foreboding, sometimes grizzly storytelling and metaphor that she employs. Songs like ‘Killer’, which draws parallels between an emotional attachment and serial killer Jeffrey Dahmer, are about as bleak as it gets.

In stark comparison, Bridgers’ chat between songs couldn’t be much more playful. Introing ‘Would You Rather’ as a song dedicated to her brother, she shares tales of his disgusting dorm room and reveals how she once received scabies from bandmate Harrison. Her pointed humour between songs acts as light relief from the beautiful but often emotionally crippling lyricism and delivery. Projected with such immaculate vocal force, these moments come in droves throughout the night.

Covers of Tom Petty’s ‘It’ll All Work Out’ and Mark Kozelek’s ‘You Missed My Heart’ (which features on Stranger in the Alps) are lovely additional touches to an already superb set. Elsewhere, pristine renditions of ‘Scott Street’, ‘Demi Moore’ and the break-up-beef anthem ‘Motion Sickness’ leave a particularly attentive audience stunned into silenced gawping. This certainly isn’t the first time I’ve seen such a reaction from a Phoebe Bridgers audience, but it might have been the most pronounced.

Phoebe Bridgers beams brightly through the darkness of her songs with an almost intimidating talent. But as her set comes to a close, what excites me most is the knowledge that there’s so much more to come from her.