With sweat pouring and eager feet tapping, a sold-out crowd Saturday night at Columbus’ EXPRESS LIVE! chatted away, trying to distract themselves from the mile-long minutes that couldn’t tick by fast enough. Indie folk’s maestro, Phoebe Bridgers, would appear at any moment.
She had already made a brief entrance by joining her opener, MUNA — a trio that deserves all the praise in the world for its energy — with her section on the band’s latest track, “Silk Chiffon.” But the wait for her full set was almost too much to bear.
For most, this hot September night was the first concert since COVID-19 made live entertainment temporarily impossible. It took Bridgers mere seconds into her opener, “Motion Sickness,” to remind the crowd why the wait was worth it.
If it wasn’t Bridgers simply walking onstage in her familiar skeleton suit that jolted the crowd, the kick of the guitar of her biggest hit certainly did it. For miles, cathartic screams about vulnerability, abusive exes and moving on could be heard. “Motion Sickness,” while blatantly devastating and a track that no one should ever have to write, felt like the key to hope for so many people in that packed venue. It’s one of those songs that you have to scream with a bunch of people who know its weight to be able to fully grasp it.
Bridgers played every track of her latest album, Punisher. Not to mention, she played it in order with a few tracks of her debut, Stranger in the Alps, as well as a track from her side project boygenius with Julien Baker and Lucy Dacus spliced throughout.
The best moment of the night, hands down, was her performance of boygenius’ “Me & My Dog.” The original — a quiet, acoustic-driven track about getting away from everything — was brought to life better than ever possibly imagined.
The crowd completely halted, and nothing could be heard or felt except for Bridgers’ subdued vocals, her gentle guitar strums and the sting of her words. Utter peace was achieved in those three and a half minutes, something that may never be replicated again, especially in a sold-out room of hypnotized fans.
During “Moon Song,” Bridgers had to stop for about a minute as medics were called to help several people who fainted from heat exhaustion. This happened more than once. Any time the audience flashed a light at her, she’d stop the set and wait until everything was OK again.
In this instance, the wait was so long that she asked the crowd if she should start the track from the beginning — to which everyone screeched with affirming pleas. Even though most Bridgers fans acknowledge her as an otherworldly being, she reminded everyone in that crowd she’s just a normal human who wants to make sure everyone is alright before doing her thing.
Moving visuals of each Punisher track served as a backdrop, providing further insight into songs already filled to the brim with painstakingly intricate details. During “Chinese Satellite,” a spaceship hung above the community it was preparing to suck into space. During the closer, “I Know The End,” a house slowly burned as the apocalypse became a reality. They were all colorful, meticulous and well done.
Bridgers returned for an encore performance of Bo Burnham’s “That Funny Feeling,” a track about sitting down and truly thinking of how screwed up the world is, prompting a sickness that bubbles up in your stomach. Already an insanely overwhelming track, the cover featured Bridgers’ own sad, slow spin that was enough to bring the crowd to a hush yet again.
When Bridgers and company gave a wave and departed, no one knew what to do except wish they could start the day over again. As Bridgers put it herself midway through the show, “It’s like a rock show energy but with folk music.” It’s something that Columbus crowd will never forget — not like they would ever want to.