"It's like a Jonas Brothers concert, but indie rock," Phoebe Bridgers joked, pausing between songs to revel in yet another wave of passionate screams from her audience.
For Bridgers, 27, her long-awaited fall tour is confirmation that her 2020 album "Punisher" and its multiple Grammy nominations have transformed her from an indie darling to a fledgling pop star, complete with adoring teenage fans who began lining up at Minneapolis' Surly Festival Field at 5 a.m. Saturday for the sold-out show.
Originally announced as two nights at the Palace Theater, the concerts were combined and moved outdoors at Bridgers' request. The show was open to anyone 12 and over, ensuring access for vaccinated fans of all ages, and the 6,000 concertgoers arranged themselves like rings on a tree, with the youngest in the front rows and equally mesmerized older concertgoers surrounding the outer edges.
Dressed in matching skeleton onesies, Bridgers and her five-piece band walked onto the stage to the buoyant refrain of the Black Eyed Peas "I Gotta Feeling." She greeted the crowd with a single word ("Sup?") before pulling an emotional 180 and opening the show with "Motion Sickness," her breakout hit about a toxic relationship, followed by the songs from "Punisher" in album order.
In many ways, the album's brooding tone, immersive melodies and brutally honest lyrics seem tailor-made for these pandemic times, like an ultimate bedroom record for a time when music fans weren't just holed up in their boudoirs listening to songs but often working and attending school from them as well.
Bridgers' lyrics can be devastating — the deceptively upbeat "Kyoto," written about her complicated relationship with her father, includes the line "I'm going to kill you / If you don't beat me to it" — but after enduring so much collective trauma and loss, anything less direct would feel pointless. This is the new bar for pop music, from Billie Eilish to Bridgers to Lizzo: Big vulnerability is big business.
And so the woman who named her new record label Saddest Factory held the field rapt with her misty voice, gazing up at a sliver of bright orange moon as she sang somber and seasonally appropriate songs like "Halloween." The crowd, who dutifully wore face coverings at her request, couldn't help but let out a collective laugh at the double meaning of the line "I can count on you to tell me the truth / When you've been drinking and you're wearing a mask."
At times, the more delicate arrangements from "Punisher" got lost in the great outdoors, as the sound system simply wasn't loud enough to overpower the chattier patrons on the periphery. But when the entire audience locked in during a gripping, unplanned solo acoustic performance of one of her earliest songs, "Georgia," the night suddenly felt intimate.
"This is, like, one of my favorite places to play in the world," Bridgers said afterward, recalling with fondness how her last visit to Minneapolis was at First Avenue (a 2019 show with her Conor Oberst side project Better Oblivion Community Center). She said she wanted to cover a Replacements song. "Of course I picked the saddest Replacements song," she sighed, before offering a sparse and mournful "Here Comes a Regular."
And in one final only-in-a-pandemic twist, Bridgers and her band returned for their encore to cover the quirky comedian Bo Burnham's "That Funny Feeling" from his recent Netflix special "Inside." Like so much of Bridgers' own material, the lyrics were sarcastic, but the sentiment cut deep. As the audience unleashed one final tidal wave of adoration into the night sky, there wasn't a hint of irony to be found.
Andrea Swensson is an author, music journalist and podcast host in Minneapolis.
"Here Comes a Regular" (Replacements)
"I Know the End"
Encore: "That Funny Feeling" (Bo Burnham)