Despite this being Phoebe Bridgers' first-ever headlining tour, she's been calling it the "Farewell Tour, a choice that is true to her brand: melancholic with a chance of irony. But if this is goodbye, how then will we conceptualize her future tours (of which there will be many — Bridgers is riding a meteoric ascent and doesn't show any signs of slowing down)? Who will be standing before the sold out crowds of the future, if Phoebe is bidding farewell to us right now? Well, her ghost, of course.
Bridgers' music is haunted by dead rock stars, ex-lovers, memories, and troubled thoughts. She leads us through these eerie landscapes tentatively, as if gently coaxing her listener into a thick fog; her glistening voice lights the way. The album artwork for her emo-folk debut, Stranger in the Alps, features a childhood photo, altered so that she's draped in white like a cartoon ghost.
Tuesday night at Le Belmont, Phoebe opened her set with "Smoke Signals," a sombre love song written for her ex-boyfriend, and current drummer, Marshall Vore. Phoebe sang with sweet tenderness while the ghost of their past relationship hung lightly in the air. "We'll watch TV while the lights on the street put all the stars to death" is a morose way to savour companionship. "Funeral," a song about a heroin overdose, was brought to life last night by Harrison Whitford's exquisite slide guitar, which shrouded the tragic song in an atmosphere of beautiful despondency.
The audience stood quietly throughout the show, entranced by the intense vulnerability of the songs and the crystalline radiance of Bridgers' piercing voice. The love was mutual, as Bridgers expressed her fondness for Montreal — a city which is "just like Paris, expect the people here are actually nice." Her casual and humorous stage presence helped to alleviate the emotional weight of the performance.
Phoebe put her acoustic guitar down for "Killer," and the strained longing of this song felt tangible, as she rung her hands and grasped at the lapels on her leather jacket. Then the band stepped down so she could deliver "Steamroller" alone, followed by a solo cover of Tom Petty's "It'll All Work Out."
Bridgers introduced her next song by candidly explaining "this is a song I wrote about sleeping with Ryan Adams." Shaking her head and insisting "bad news, bad news bears," she brought the full band back before leaping into the standout track, "Motion Sickness." The soaring chorus had most of the audience singing along — it was a rare moment of cathartic free fall, nestled into an otherwise steadied and darkened set list. Even Bridgers was beaming as she cried "you said when you met me you were bored." It's a triumphant reclaiming of a painful memory; laughing in the face of insult, she breathes confidence into her ability to create from experience, to handle criticism with strength.
Bridgers closed the set with the exquisite "Scott Street," co-written by Vore, and was begged back for an encore by her adoring crowd. "We literally only have one more song we can play" — the Mark Kozelek cover on her album, "You Missed My Heart." The tender performance brought her to the floor. Even including the encore, Bridgers' set only lasted 45 minutes, but somehow felt placidly complete.
Yesterday, the morning of the concert, my friend told me she felt a spiritual presence with her, following her throughout the day, like a quiet companion. I can't help but think it was one of Phoebe's ghosts.