On her latest leg of the “Reunion Tour” Phoebe Bridgers scaled down the show slightly to be able to play far more cities on the seemingly never-ending “Punisher” run of shows. The indie-folk musician has made the most of a year away from touring due to lockdown and gained a massive following that has allowed her to play massive venues to sold-out crowds. Coming to Tampa, Bridgers played The Cuban Club, a smaller outdoor space within the campus of Hillsborough Community College. The shockingly small size of the venue for the artist on this tour was somehow overshadowed by the fact that it was across from a major Scientology church and the irony was not lost on her fans.
One of the signees of Bridgers’ “Saddest Factory” label, Charlie Hickey played a tight set in support of his debut record “Nervous at Night.” The LA-based singer-songwriter’s southern rock inspired tunes evokes inspiration from artists like Pinegrove and Jackson Browne. With a three piece band of Hickey, drummer Zac Coe and bassist/keyboardist/guitarist Kaylee Stenberg the group’s momentum was halted by having to stop the show for the zealous Phoebe fans passing out in 80 degree weather nearly every song, and ensuring that they were okay. While Hickey played off the sentiment with nervous concern, this would only get more consistent as the headliner would take the stage.
Phoebe Bridgers launched into her set, clad in a signature Max Mara suit with “Motion Sickness” from her first record “Stranger in the Alps.” One of the more upbeat tracks in the set, the crowd immediately lit up, as the singer lamented her abusive relationship with disgraced indie rock singer Ryan Adams. As the crowd yelled along to the lyrics, its not hard to see where Bridgers’ cathartic lyricism tugs at the heartstrings of her audience. The tracks from “Stranger” would be relegated to the more live show-ready fare like “Funeral” and “Scott Street,” which was interrupted by crowd members needing medical attention. With this leg of the tour, Bridgers has been playing her latest single “Sidelines” that features the music video on projection behind her while Bridgers is shrouded in light.
On her “Reunion Tour,” Bridgers brings the record “Punisher” to life, with storybook projections and a fairly full band backing her. However, from my Indiana review, there seems to be some changes at the Tampa show. Violinist Emily Kohavi did not appear at this show and has been absent from this leg of the tour, which while leaving certain songs lack the characteristics that bring some of the southern and folky twang, instead with trumpet player JJ Kirkpatrick taking the violin sections. As well as, the set design being more bare bones, with the synchronized LED lights on mic stands being the only practical effect on stage. The large, rotating bookcase and pumpkin props were also removed from this show and from the other videos of the tour do not appear. However, Bridgers keeps the musical arrangements fresh on this tour with multiple opening acts. On the track “Chinese Satellite” she brought on opener Charlie Hickey to sing backing vocals in Hickey’s falsetto.
As the show powered on, the momentum was halted at multiple points as Bridgers would stop the show due to audience members having to be taken out of the crowd by fellow crowd members as there was a startling lack of on-site EMTs. To avoid an “Astroworld” situation, Bridgers would make sure the crowd was fine before continuing, sometimes in the middle of a song. Eventually, the glow of an ambulance light parked outside the venue indicated that medical staff had finally arrived. The lack of any staff from The Cuban Club had been shockingly apparent as the queue for the show began in the early morning hours and only snaked around the Hillsborough campus with no clear direction, especially closer to show time when audience members that had only arrived 30 minutes before doors found their way to the same part of the line as people that had queued since 10AM. If I may editorialize, many people in the crowd were not properly hydrated nor dressed for 80 degree Florida weather, having queued since well earlier in the day. While the house staff throwing water did help to quell some of the dehydration concerns, please know your limits, take care of yourselves and each other in these spaces. Concerts may be marketed as an individualistic experience, but you are existing in this space with other people.
While Bridgers brand of indie rock may appear personal and introspective on the surface, the singer makes clear of the political implications of her work. With “Chinese Satellite” she details the implications of “screaming at the evangelicals” as she revealed to have had an abortion while on tour last year in 2021. With two Florida shows on her docket, the band took two moments to say “Gay” on stage, along with a bass speaker saying “Gay” in neon tape letters in defiance of Governor Ron DeSantis’ continued culture war attacks on queer people.
Bridgers ended the show solo, opting to let the crowd choose the song. While the track has been a full band staple of her shows, she ended the set with “Me and My Dog” a song written by Bridgers with Lucy Dacus and Julien Baker, in their supergroup Boygenius.
Chinese Satellite (with Charlie Hickey)
I Know the End
Me & My Dog (boygenius cover)