“Is this having fun?”
When Phoebe Bridgers asked this question at the heart of “Sleepwalkin’,” early in the second of a two-night run at Los Angeles’ Teragram Ballroom on Thursday night, the smile that beamed from her face was vivid even from the back of the room. Taken out of context of the song, the answer was clearly yes, that her collaborative project with Conor Oberst, Better Oblivion Community Center, is a joyous culmination of several years of tireless output. Bridgers has gone from rising local songwriter to putting out one of the best debuts in recent memory, 2017’s Stranger In The Alps, to forming an era-defining supergroup in Boygenius to teaming with one of her songwriting heroes in BOCC. She hasn’t missed a beat between projects and has consistently kept an air of gratitude and disbelief in her public persona. Never has a smile felt so deserved, so earned as when Bridgers unleashes it from the stage. Bliss can fall from the sky on those who don’t even ask for it, but for Phoebe Bridgers, there’s blood, sweat, and tears behind every elated grin, screaming that all of the work she’s put in has been worth it.
That’s not all that screams these days. Not long after Bridgers posted that she missed screaming for a living, referring back to her Boygenius tour where she would let wail at the climax of her soaring “Me & My Dog,” she was back at it. This time it was covering Bright Eyes’ 2005 Digital Ash In A Digital Urn closer “Easy/Lucky/Free” at the Teragram, where Bridgers howled without reservation at the song’s closing. These were piercing cries that Bridgers knew weren’t quite as controlled as Oberst’s own, and she finally turned over the mic to him so all could witness the master at work. Screaming, like smiling, can be infectious, and though she doesn’t quite have control of the former as an art form, the catharsis that it brings her is just as valuable as her ear-to-ear beaming.
Over the last several weeks, it has felt like Bridgers has had a lot more to scream about than she has to smile. Sure, her career is going great, but fans have also witnessed just part of the cost that many women experience as they attempt to find their way in their chosen professions. Bridgers bravely came forward as part of a New York Times investigation into Ryan Adams, revealing her experience with the famed songwriter that began with musical encouragement and collaboration, snowballed into a romance, and culminated with the kind of manipulation and harassment that is all too common in the music industry — and any industry, really. Throughout it all, Bridgers has stood tall, allowing her personal life to become headlines in the hope that other women won’t have to endure the same struggles, that this sort of behavior becomes less normalized.