Phoebe Bridgers at Coachella review: A glorious gothic fantasy complete with surprise Arlo Parks cameo

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Phoebe Bridgers onstage at Coachella on Friday (15 April)   (AFP via Getty Images)
Phoebe Bridgers onstage at Coachella on Friday (15 April) (AFP via Getty Images)

Most folk musicians don’t enter a festival stage to the pounding sounds of heavy metal, but Phoebe Bridgers isn’t most folk musicians. Brandishing a custom black battle axe of a guitar and wearing a glamourous, diamanté version of her trademark skeleton outfit – which tonight is more gothic high fashion label Vampire’s Wife than trick-or-treater – the Los Angeles singer-songwriter has managed to create a world that’s entirely her own.

Bridgers is among the high-profile musical performers who took the stage on Friday (15 April) at Coachella, which returns to California after a two-year hiatus due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Against a screen of twinkling stars that brings to mind the cover art of her second album, 2020’s Punisher, Bridgers’ incredible video backdrop at the festival – which is currently underway – folds open into a lavishly illustrated story book, as she tears into her breakthrough hit “Motion Sickness” and the acoustic elegance of “Scott Street” which brings in mournful violin before the saddest horns in California join.

For Bridgers, a Los Angeles native, this show is something of a homecoming. “Picture it; Coachella – the year is 2011, I am in a Two Door Cinema crop top and I have pink hair,” she says, before wisecracking: “Don’t picture it actually.” Living just a few hours down the freeway, she adds: “I’m from LA, so I can’t tell you how much of a dream this is to me,” before going on to thank her mother for driving her to the festival for seven years in a row.

The driving, upbeat “Kyoto” is fun, but tonight it’s Bridgers’ more emo numbers that really impress, especially when British singer Arlo Parks casually enters the stage to provide gossamer light backing vocals to “Graceland Too” and “I Know The End”, which finishes in a blaze of baby pyrotechnics and one almighty wail from a beaming Bridgers.

We also get an airing of brand new song, “Sidelines”, which premiered earlier this week as part of the soundtrack to the forthcoming new TV adaptation of author Sally Rooney’s YA phenomenon Conversations With Friends. “Now we’re going to pretend we live in a fictional world where people come to a concert to hear a new song,” laughs Bridgers. It’s another sad girl special, a slow burning ballad oozing with dreamy nostalgia and more than a hint of darkness.

As the warm night suddenly takes on something of a chill, this en masse therapy session – which draws from Bridgers’ 2017 debut Stranger in the Alps as well as its 2020 follow-up – provides a moment of much-needed catharsis in among the bass and beats heavy Coachella bill. It’s a very special show indeed.

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