By Claire Perry
When Jessie Gleason burned a custom CD for her girlfriend Eloise Williams, she included a questionable pick: Phoebe Bridgers’ “Graceland Too.”
“It’s a really sad song for a one year anniversary,” Gleason said.
“Graceland Too is about queer women with depression,” Williams added. “And we’re both queer women with depression.”
The couple had been planning to go to Phoebe Bridgers’ September 21 Raleigh concert since Gleason won two tickets in a highly-coveted Ticketmaster lottery back in July.
Gleason and Williams were among thousands of self-dubbed “Pharbs” who trekked to the Red Hat Amphitheater for the skeleton-suited songstress’ Reunion Tour, a celebration of “Punisher,” a sophomore album marked by synth beats and gothic lyrics in desperate need of family counseling and 200 milligrams of Seroquel.
It’s this brutal transparency, especially in reflections on queer womanhood in a heterosexual society like those in “Graceland Too,” that draws Gleason and Williams to Phoebe’s sadder tunes. Even after a year together.
“The lyric that stands out is ‘I could do whatever she wants to do,’” Gleason said. “It’s like, not asking for anything in return because I am in love with you, and I feel like even though it’s not reciprocated — like obviously here, it’s reciprocated, but when you’re young it’s not — that was really important representation.”
Not even the rain, or the musty fog that reeked of expensive beer and stuck Williams’ fishnets to her freezing legs, could shroud the magic of “Graceland Too”. Hand in hand, they snuck to the front of the concert during the intermission, eager to get a better look at the show.
As the band played “Graceland Too,” the rain would make it hard for Bridgers’ drummer turned banjo player to tune to F#. But no downpour could wash away the feeling Gleason and Williams had as they looked in each other’s eyes through the strobe-illuminated raindrops, knowing they would do whatever the other wanted. And the other would do the same.
“Whatever she wants.”
At 26 years old, Patty Matos was older than most people in the crowd.
She was born in the same year as Phoebe Bridgers, 1994, the year Kurt Cobain died.
Matos is no stranger to fandom.
In 2010, she started a fan event from her bedroom, concerning all things “The Cab,” a Las Vegas rock band, which was celebrated in four continents by its fourth year. The skeleton suits were just a Phoebe Bridgers-edition upgrade to eons of poster board love professions and thrown-on-stage Target bras.
They had heard the artist’s first big song, “Motion Sickness” four years ago, but only really became a fan when “Punisher” came out last year.
It wasn’t long before a single stream of the lead single turned into album listenings, merch buying, and playing “Punisher” so many times in the car that her skeleton-suited mom came to the show.
Tuesday’s concert was Matos’ second encounter with Phoebe this week. They went to the Charlotte show on Sunday, so she had already cried it out, and was unfazed by the fog machine and trumpet fanfare.
When Bridgers messed up the second verse to “Garden Song,” Matos’ favorite track, she stopped singing.
Matos felt an intimacy to an otherwise ethereal artist, a connection different from any found in all their years of fandom. It was at the same time grounding and illuminating.
“Everybody’s human and we all mess up,” Matos said. “This song talks about getting better and being a better person. And that’s never a linear journey. So, in a way it kind of fits.”
With one mistake, this collision between the Phoebe Bridgers nominated for Grammy Awards and the Phoebe Bridgers who smokes in the Whole Foods parking lot came together in a cosmic and diminutive manner, as if the petals in her song were suddenly knocked down by the torrents cascading five feet from the covered stage.
As Matos grappled with the ethereal humanity 400 feet below her, she understood for the first time why Bridgers sang about her long-perished idol in “Punisher”’s title track.
“What if I told you I feel like I know you,
but we never met?”
Cora Martin, Gleason’s roommate and a fellow queer femme, stayed behind the couple, nearing the other end of the pit like they usually do at concerts. The pain in their joints makes it difficult to stand for long, but it didn’t stop them from wearing 3-inch-platform Doc Martens.
“Everybody is wearing the same shoes as I am,” Martin said. “I’m having a great time.”
Atop their platform boots, the crowd wore fishnet tights, flannels and thrifted lace slips, homemade skeleton earrings and unnaturally pigmented hair dye. Bridgers’ own iconic look — glow-in-the-dark skeleton suit, baby-thin white blonde hair and rhinestone black guitar — was the inspiration for this gothic fashion show.
As Bridgers sang Martin’s favorite “Punisher” track, “Moon Song,” the cloudy sky made it seem like the red moon rising above the band on a projector screen was the only one in the galaxy. An anomaly only a Phoebe Bridgers concert could cause.
But that wasn’t Martin’s favorite performance of the night. It was “Kyoto.”
“This one’s for all of the kids who had to lie to CPS (Child Protective Services),” Bridgers said as she jiggled her electric guitar’s tuning pegs, preparing for a B Major.
Martin wasn’t expecting to be emotionally impacted. But that single line brought them back to their childhood with their estranged father. The acknowledgement of the hatred that comes alongside survivor’s guilt struck them suddenly through trumpet riffs and “Woos”, falling on their shoulders like the drops of waning rain.
“So much of what you’re “supposed” to feel is getting over things and becoming less angry,” Martin said. “But I think that there’s really a space for holding on to your rage, and not forgiving or forgetting.”
Their caramel hijab stood out in the crowd, a blanket of increasingly soggy warmth in a sea of black, white and neon. Even as Martin stood alone, away from Gleason, they didn’t feel it.
“When you are growing up queer, you feel so lonely, and then when you grow up and you find somebody that understands you, it still feels so fleeting because you’re so used to being alone,’ Martin said. “I think that that’s why queer artists are so important, because they really understand.”
Maybe the feeling was lost when Phoebe Bridgers, the artist, instantaneously switched places with Phoebe Bridgers, the person, during “Garden Song”. Or maybe, it was lost when she swung around the bra of an audience member, or acknowledged an expletive sign, or drank from a sweating San Pellegrino bottle on stage.
But as a community of peers — queer, femme, and footed in patent leather — shed bits of their own loneliness in the fresh gravel, left drops of it in empty water bottles and discarded wine cans, Martin felt a little less alone. And maybe that’s what loving Phoebe Bridgers is all about.
Edited by Peitra Knight