6 moments from Phoebe Bridgers' ACL Fest performance that have us haunted
You've heard of Nicki Minaj's stans, the internet hivemind/fearsome paramilitary entity known as the Barbz. But have you met the Pharbz, the recreationally moody devotees of celebrated singer-songwriter Phoebe Bridgers? You did if you headed to the Lady Bird Stage at Austin City Limits Music Festival at 4:20 p.m. on Oct. 2, when Bridgers performed right as Zilker Park was at its most sauna-like.
She pulled a great crowd, to no surprise. After the success of 2017 debut "Stranger In the Alps" and the even bigger success of 2020's "Punisher," Bridgers has emerged as a defining musical force for a generation beset by doom and open about its mental health journeys. Then there's her wry online presence and the fact that she's always smirking before she sings the most devastating words you've ever heard.
She also loves a little bit of spooky energy, whether that's haunting memories, the ghost on her first album cover or the skeleton suit she often wears on tour. We'll rate the standout moments from Bridgers' ACL Fest set on a scale of one to five ghosts, with one ghost being a minor haunting and five ghosts being something emotionally devastating enough to inspire our own album of piercingly sad indie-rock songs.
'Motion Sickness' to start
Bridgers' first big hit is the most pop-oriented on "Stranger In the Alps," which would be surprising, considering its inspiration, but if you don't consider that there aren't many happy Phoebe Bridgers songs. She wrote the lyrics about ex Ryan Adams, the singer-songwriter whom Bridgers and other women later publicly accused of abuse.
It's a smart way to start a festival set, with singalong lyrics that ease the crowd into the emotional bloodshed ahead. No skeleton suit for her this time, though her band donned the ol' bones. Bridgers opted for an ivory-beaded, bib-style crop top with a little bowtie detail under a black jacket, giving very much Ruth Bader Ginsburg in her folk-rock era. 3/5 ghosts.
A little casual murder plotting
The front of Bridgers' set was loaded with crowd favorites, which proved opportune, since the heat and the downbeat vibes deeper into the hour seemed to lose some folks. The opening line of "Garden Song," for example, is impossible not to love, and also definitely about vigilante murder: "Someday, I'm gonna live/ In your house up on the hill/ And when your skinhead neighbor goes missing/ I'll plant a garden in the yard."
Bridgers' voice loses none of its clarity or control live. This moment gave us soft intimations in the sultry air that might have laid you flat, if you were not careful. 5/5 ghosts.
Get your dancing out early
Again, up-tempo is not really the Bridgers bag. A sort-of exception is "Punisher" single "Kyoto," a rock heartbreaker that anyone with parent baggage absolutely loves. Her horn player's brassy blasts lifted the vibe in a moment when fest-goers were probably flagging under the afternoon humidity. Also, Bridgers' famous "woo!" during "Kyoto" made for a moment to smile. 4/5 ghosts.
Bridgers takes on Texas and dystopia
"This one's for you, Greg," she said. Then she told the governor of Texas to perform a lewd act, before launching into the gorgeous, sweeping "Chinese Satellite."
"I want to believe," she sang. "Instead, I look at the sky and I feel nothing"
Bridgers is a champion of progressive causes, and like a lot of ACL Fest artists, she lent her voice to decrying Texas' new abortion law, which prohibits the procedure after six weeks, which is before many people know they are pregnant.
Earlier in the week, she released a studio recording of her cover of comedian-musician Bo Burnham's song "That Funny Feeling" and dedicated it to Gov. Greg Abbott. All proceeds from the song, which is available at a "name your price" rate on Bandcamp, will go to ActBlue Charities' Texas Abortion Funds to raise money to help Texans seeking an abortion pay for the procedure and get "logistical help like a ride to a clinic." The funds are split between 10 different organizations, including Texas Equal Access Fund, The Bridge Collective, Support Your Sistah at the Afiya Center and more.
She mentioned that effort and played "That Funny Feeling" late in her ACL Fest set. If you haven't watched Burnham's Netflix special "Inside," it's a clever-but-melancholy examination of the absurdities in our dystopian present: "Twenty-thousand years of this, seven more to go," one line of this tune goes.
Dark humor, lingering thoughts. Perfect for Bridgers' setlist. 5/5 ghosts.
Life's no fun, life's no fun
One of the best songs of the past couple months, "Silk Chiffon," features Bridgers collaborating with the phenomenal band (and ACL Fest alums) Muna, who released the single on Bridgers' Saddest Factory label.
We understand that it is technically a Muna song, but we love it and Bridgers did not play it. Sorry, just want to be honest about our sadness, in honor of the set. 1/5 ghosts.
A final scream
Speaking of the conclusion to all things, "I Know the End" tied up Bridgers' afternoon. It's a shame that she played in the peak of the heat on a large festival stage; it's not really the best setting for introspection. But when you find yourself at the crossroads of popularity and Texas, that's the deal.
"I Know the End" leans into a deconstructed post-rock sound. The drums, horn and guitar all make a stab at impressionism before breaking down into an impossible atomic storm.
And then Bridgers lets out a blood-curdling scream. Sick.
There's more shredding, and an animated house burns on the video screen. Bridgers kicks the mic stand over and drops her guitar to the ground. Consider yourself haunted, and also exorcised. 5/5 ghosts.
At ACL Fest on Weekend 2
Catch Phoebe Bridgers at 4:20 p.m. Saturday on the Lady Bird Stage.
Correction: An earlier version of this story incorrectly referred to Phoebe Bridgers' final song as "The End Is Near."