When the group of musicians on stage played the familiar opening chord of "Motion Sickness," the crowd gathered at the Mann here in Philly exploded with it. Phoebe Bridgers and her band arrived a few minutes past 9 p.m., and each member was decked out in the classic skeleton onesie except for the artist herself. Instead, she was dressed in a sequin–adorned blazer that reflected across the faces of the audience.
The first number was a fan–favorite from her 2017 record Stranger in the Alps, but the 2021 Reunion Tour is meant to celebrate the release of her second studio album Punisher; it became one of the most critically acclaimed albums dropped during the peak of COVID–19 in June of 2020. The 11 tracks on the record are constituted of waves—waves of nostalgia, loneliness, apocalypse, and more.
In late August, Bridgers' team announced the tour would be relocated to outdoor venues following the spike in COVID–19 cases due to the Delta variant. The Skyline Stage was the perfect atmosphere for the haunted house her concert became, as vaccinated guests remained spellbound throughout the entire performance. After the opener, Bridgers performed each of the tracks on Punisher in succession. When the upbeat rock tune "Kyoto" came on fourth, the crowd screamed as she sang "I'm gonna kill you / if you don't beat me to it." Teenagers and adults alike swayed from side to side—the one major takeaway of a Bridgers performance is that you don't really dance. You nod along, mouthing the words and occasionally uttering a "wow" to your friend.
After the first few handfuls of songs, Bridgers introduced her band members and offered an embarrassing anecdote about how they thought they were performing in Pittsburgh that night. A series of "boos" rang from the Philly locals before the band launched into a haunting melody, quieting them once more.
"Moon Song" was the pinnacle moment of the show—it seemed as if not a single member in the audience was speaking but rather softly singing along the lines, "You couldn't have / stuck your tongue down the throat of somebody / who loves you more." Bridgers' music acts as anthems for not only unrequited love, but for love that has failed—time and time again.
While she is defined as indie rock, Bridgers' Punisher carries a heavy melancholy more than anything else. The album was nominated by the Grammy Awards for Best Alternative Music Album. This genre is the best word to encapsulate the varying musical styles that are riddled throughout. Yet alongside this melancholy is the ultimate desire to grow in ways that aren't present than her debut album. Bridgers once described the album's conception to Stereogum as "someone who started to go to therapy and work out some of the things you can’t change about yourself no matter your circumstances."
In between songs from Punisher come some tracks from the deeper trenches of Bridgers' repertoire, such as when she asked the audience if they would rather hear "Me and My Dog" from her trio act boygenius or "Georgia" off Stranger in the Alps. The applause for the former was deafening as Bridgers launched into the song with a voice much more mature than the recorded version.
Of course, the final song that Bridgers played from her setlist was to be expected, as the title suggests: "I Know the End." This track, spanning nearly six minutes, is a slow burn—what begins as a somber description of a failing relationship spirals out into a full–blown attack of instruments, apocalyptic lyrics, and an eventual few seconds of screaming from both the band and the concert attendees after they chant "The end is here." With the accompanying trumpet and vibrating drum hits, the moment became singular in its own as the antithesis to the calm she emitted with "Moon Song."
As to be expected in a modern concert, Bridgers fled the stage before returning to perform one last song as her encore. She opted out of her usual choice of "I Feel Funny," a cover by Bo Burnham, and instead gave those in the audience who voted for "Georgia" what they were waiting for. Before she bid her final farewell, Bridgers left us with the looming words "Will you hate me? /And would you f*ck this / And let us fall?" And as the crowd eventually dwindled, the question remained unanswered.