Phoebe Bridgers brings raw vocals and a furry friend to her virtual VIBES performance

Grammy-nominated Phoebe Bridgers performs her indie rock discography for the third installment of VPB Music Group’s VIBES virtual concert series

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Phoebe Bridgers performs a casual set right from her home for Vanderbilt’s VIBES concert series. (Hustler Staff/Becca Rossi)

Becca Rossi

For the third concert in their VIBES virtual concert series, Vanderbilt Programming Board’s Music Group brought musician Phoebe Bridgers to the Vanderbilt community this Wednesday, Feb. 17.

Following the release of her latest album, “Punisher,” Bridgers popularity has quickly grown. She received four nominations late November for the upcoming Grammy Awards, including Best New Artist. 

I miss going to concerts in-person. I miss being packed in like sardines, sweaty and waiting for the mutually-loved artist to come on stage. Small concert venues seem to cultivate an intimacy between the audience and the performer. Although Vanderbilt has hosted multiple artists for virtual shows, I had yet to attend one because I couldn’t imagine it compared to the in-person experience, and now, I can confirm it doesn’t. It does provide something different, however: a new kind of intimacy. There’s something vulnerable about an artist sitting in their home and playing for you. There’s no elaborate lights, displays or band set-up and the artists can no longer feed off the audience’s energy, as Bridgers noted during her set.

“I’m just playing into the void,” Bridgers said. 

Sitting in her home with no backup besides her own guitar playing—think Tiny Dorm Concert—she opened the set with “Kyoto,” her most popular single. Immediately I was taken aback by just how raw and haunting her vocals were, yet still how similar they sounded to her recorded tracks. Throughout the hour, Bridgers alternated between three different guitars, talking and giving personal anecdotes as she tuned them. 

Bridgers did not hide her emotions or facial expressions as she sang, some of her most explicit expressions occurring during “Scott Street,” a song about her hometown of Los Angeles. Before playing “Me & My Dog,”  a song recorded by her band, boygenius, she noted that she bought the guitar she was tuning at a Guitar Center in Nashville.

“Can you still be a socialist if you shop at Guitar Center?” she asked with a laugh. 

A few songs later, Bridgers brought her dog Maxine in front of the camera, a moment I appreciated as it could never happen at an in-person show. After a few more songs, she switched and tuned her guitar one last time. 

“This is about a person I genuinely hate, but I love you guys. Thanks for having me,” she said before closing the show with “Motion Sickness”—my personal favorite. 

Although virtual concerts do not compare to the in-person experience, I enjoyed Phoebe Bridgers’ show. It was nice to take a break from school work for an hour and listen to her play. Her impressive vocals and songwriting skills transferred well to a live show, and although I wish I could have seen her perform in-person, the virtual setting did allow her to perform for us from across the country, something that would not usually have been possible. Acknowledging the difficulties and awkwardness of playing to an audience you cannot see or hear, Bridgers did a great job filling in the pauses with anecdotes or jokes about her life and music, ultimately creating a kind of intimacy that larger, more produced shows can’t replicate.   

So, thank you, VPB. Thank you for bringing us Phoebe Bridgers and broadening my view of what a concert can be. Will a filled gallery-view window of Zoom participants be the new sold-out arena? Probably not. But for the opportunity to see my favorite artist’s dog, maybe it’s worth it.