Phoebe Bridgers slams Margaret Court at sold-out Melbourne gig

Phoebe Bridgers ★★★★
Margaret Court Arena, February 8

The last time Phoebe Bridgers played in Melbourne, it was to less than 1000 people – but a lot has happened since 2019.

The 28-year-old, who collaborated with Taylor Swift in 2021, is now the type of celebrity whose love life is the stuff of tabloid speculation; the kind of musician with parasocial fans. Her show this time around is to a sold-out crowd more than seven times the size of the last, at the type of venue where you can buy fries to eat while watching a band. Her demographic has shifted, too: some fans are here with their chaperone parents.

Phoebe Bridgers performs on stage at Margaret Court Arena in Melbourne on February 8, 2023. Credit:Rick Clifford

It’s a far cry from last time, but the music stays the same: Bridgers trades in a raw, emotionally honest brand of folk-inflected indie rock. Her two albums so far, 2017’s Stranger in the Alps and 2020’s Grammy-nominated Punisher – as well as an EP and forthcoming album with boygenius, her supergroup with fellow indie musicians Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker – are striking in their fine craft. Here is a songwriter who’s as poetic as she is playful, as tender as she is brutal.

Towards the end of support act Christian Lee Hutson’s set, the acoustic singer-songwriter announces that he’s bringing out an “up and coming artist” for a duet. The room erupts in the kind of cheers usually reserved for boy bands when Bridgers appears, but it’s nothing compared to when she takes the stage for the main event.

Wearing her signature skeleton suit (her band is dressed to match), Bridgers blazes through a set backed by an impressive production: the elaborate stage set includes moving, themed video backdrops and an intricate lighting rig.

Phoebe Bridgers is a songwriter who’s as poetic as she is playful, as tender as she is brutal.Credit:Rick Clifford

She’s in fine form, but the intimacy of quiet songs such as Funeral and Punisher is diluted by big-scale rearrangements, or drowned out by audience screaming. An acoustic solo rendition – as happens for encore number Emily, I’m Sorry – is much better suited to songs like these, allowing their emotional clarity to shine.

Other arrangements match the space well, like an expanded Chinese Satellite, complete with trumpets, and the swelling ICU. These moments are transcendent, powered by Bridgers’ ethereal vocals.

Despite the size of the venue, Bridgers still makes the show feel personal. To close Scott Street, she enters the crowd, handing over to lucky fans to sing the climactic lines: “anyway, don’t be a stranger:”

It’s as much about Bridgers’ deadpan humour as it is about the music. Midway through the show, she looks around. “So, Margaret Court,” she says. “F— that stupid ass, dumb ass bitch.” She then leads the crowd through a chant decrying the tennis star namesake of the venue, who has in recent years made a number of controversial and oft criticised comments regarding the LGBTIQ+ community – not your regular Wednesday night international entertainer. Her banter with her bandmates, particularly drummer (and ex-boyfriend) Marshall Vore, is funny and charming.

But if catharsis is collective, then main set closer I Know the End is the long-awaited release. As the song crescendos towards its climax, Bridgers is controlled before exploding into a blood-curdling scream, joined by every person in the room. It’s everything – joy, rage, the spaces between – led by a charismatic, talented artist whose appeal is increasingly universal.

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