A country song began to play. Like the very commodified, mainstream country radio kind of song. The kind of breezy, late summer day, wind-blowing-through-your-hair-as-you-drive-your-pickup-truck kind of country song.
I heard the phrase “parked out by the lake” more than a few times, but didn’t think much of the glossy genre’s fairly standard fare. The question of why Phoebe Bridgers chose this track in particular to walk onto stage to though — that nagged at my noggin. I mean, there are so many options, Pheebs. Poised at the mic, she even began to sing along a bit. Well, dang, I thought; attributing definite deeper layers I just didn’t pick up on as the reasoning. I mean, it must be a meaningful tune for such a prolific songwriter to single out.
Ha. What I learned later is that the song in question — the very aptly-titled “Parked Out by the Lake” — is actually a parody. “I’m parked out by the lake,” the very real and actual bluegrass / gospel artist, Dustin Christensen, begins in that perfectly gritty and melodic rasp, as his very not real alter-ego, Dean Summerwind. “Eighty miles from Sante Fe,”he continues. “And I’m sitting here just parked out by the lake. If you’re wondering where I parked, I’m out parked by the lake. It’s the lake that’s eighty miles from Sante Fe.”
A wave of relief washed over me. Perfection. Semi-akin to Bo Burnham’s iconic parody, “Pandering,” the song is a joke. And it’s exactly this kind of wry and multi-dimensional, mildly cynical but completely truthful melding that so perfectly encapsulates both of the artists who graced the stage at World Cafe Live this past Wednesday.
Placed on different sonic waves — Soccer Mommy a little grittier and Bridgers’ a little folkier — both musicians are shining icons of a new wave of songwriters and music-makers. One’s who honestly and realistically represent my ironically-loaded, self-aware generation; who take and pull from whatever influence and inspiration they want — the bigger the stretch the better.
Take, for example, Bridgers’ referential nod to The Big Lebowski in her album title, or that her merch table was strewn with t-shirts more likely promoting a death metal band, rather than the always soft and beautiful, sometimes silly and self-deprecating, musings that were just moments ago sung into Christmas-light snaked mics.
Soccer Mommy’s Sophie Allison, on the other hand, is a smidge less subtle in her transparently sardonic ways. Opening the night donning a hardcore-looking Billy Rae Cyrus tour t-shirt, she quickly became the most lax-toned, surprisingly engaging, between-song salesperson for Subaru Outbacks, which we were informed is the vehicle she and her band manage to tour across the country in.
Singing only two older tracks, including one of my favorites, the chill and doe-eyed, “Henry,” along with the swirly surf tune, “Try,” the majority of the set was reserved for her new album, Clean, which is out on March 2nd (but available for streaming now over at NPR.) Clearly aware of her required industry promotional plug duties, she refreshingly followed with comically dry statements like “or don’t [buy it.] There’s a YouTube now, so music’s dead,” while going on to share that the first songs she ever bought were Hilary Duff’s “Fly” and Kelly Clarkson’s “Breakaway.”
Effortlessly dotting between this crowd-pleasing banter, Allison and the rest of the Soccer Mommy crew likewise balanced sounds of sparkly airiness (“Last Girl,”) somber reflection (“Still Clean,”) out-for-blood vengeance (“Your Dog,”) and bit of all of that mashed together (“Cool,” “Scorpio Rising.”)
Queuing the impostor country single, Phoebe Bridgers quietly took the stage alongside touring bandmates Nick White on keys, Harrison Whitford on lap steel, Anna White on bass, and Marshall Vore on drums. With the mood quieting into a more reflective space, Bridgers and crew breezed into the opening track, “Smoke Signals,” as the stage backdrop of the Stranger in the Alps’ album cover doggo stared straight into the crowd’s soul.
Foregoing the darker, slightly foreboding essence of the recorded track, this rendition honed in on a more intimate welcome as emphasis was placed on Bridgers’ clear vocals and acoustic strums. Building from this personal introduction, more and more elements were ushered in, which resulted in a perfect middle ground between the acoustic feel of her 2015 EP Killer and the fuller-bodied production of In the Alps that was held throughout the night.
This medium allowed for the easy movement from dialed down moments of sweet sadness in heartbreaking gems such as “Funeral” and “Steamroller;” to eruptions of louder, powerful emotions, such as the composition for my other personal favorite “Georgia,” which moved from the infectiously rich uttering of the two-syllable track namesake to a cathartic thunderstorm of feeling.
What also aided this fluid transition was the gloriously respectful crowd, who along with being perfectly silent when needed, were also perfectly helpful when needed as well. Hit with another “case of the missing capo” a fan in the front row surprisingly offered up a spare one to the singer in her time of tuning need, which brought on an onslaught of adoration from gifts of flower bouquets to shouts of almond snacks waiting for her after the gig.
But it was Bridgers who soon shifted best wishes and accolades towards her drummer Vore. Being it his birthday the next day, she covered one of his songs, “Wasted.” “This is a song about being sad and getting older,” Bridgers informed the crowd. “So I thought it was fitting.”
And though a majority of the night was filled with these kind of lonely and introspective wonderings, Bridgers’ music doesn’t let you wallow in one sphere. Though soon throwing in a funky party of bitter confusion (“Motion Sickness”) would seem out of place amongst this otherwise fairly somber fare, it’s ensuing catchy dance fest just made perfect sense.
Because like the emo “folk-core” artist she is, Phoebe Bridgers’ music and live show honestly portrays every facet of a real tangled human being. A bit of laughter, a bit of sadness, a bit of beauty, and a bit of peace, there was no better way to end the night than the encore of the bursting with life, “Scott Street” and the Mark Kozelek weepy ballad “You Missed My Heart.”
Just as the former’s ending celebration began, crew members surprisingly ran from side stage, chucking huge black balloons upon into the crowd — replacing the sounds of clown honks, bike bells, and whistles with a tangible form of energy. Though that would’ve been swell on it’s own, apparently they were supposed to pop open with confetti instead of being “black balls of death,” and one determined balloon made sure to complete this life purpose.
Halfway through the insanely delicate parting song of the night, an AWOL balloon sitting center stage scared everyone shitless as it tore through the dead silence with a burst of color. Everyone caught a dose of giggles — Bridgers included — and then just as quickly bounced back to the solemn space. And it all just made stupidly perfect sense.
Soccer Mommy Setlist:
Phoebe Bridgers Setlist:
Would You Rather
It’ll All Work Out (Tom Petty cover)
You Missed My Heart (Mark Kozelek cover)
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