YBOR CITY — At her sold-out Reunion tour stop in the courtyard of the Cuban Club, hours after the deadliest elementary shooting since Sandy Hook, Phoebe Bridgers was not afraid to get political.
“This is cool,” she said, greeting the crowd Tuesday. “F--k DeSantis. Everybody ready to say ‘gay’ on three?”
Several thousand fans roared back, “GAYYYYYYYYY!”
The theme continued in between hits from her Grammy-nominated record “Punisher,” songs from her debut album, “Stranger in the Alps,” and an encore of “Me & My Dog” by her supergroup, Boygenius.
Bridgers referenced the abortion she got in October ahead of “Chinese Satellite,” listing several abortion funds and resources.
“This is about a time I walked through a bunch of people with really disturbing picket signs,” she said. “If you have money to throw around, throw it around.”
Bridgers introduced “ICU” as a song about disagreeing with family members on politics.
“Especially white supremacy,” she added.
Bridgers hadn’t performed here since a 2017 Gasparilla Music Festival appearance, where she played an early afternoon slot. Her popularity has ballooned since then, with numerous late-night television appearances and four Grammy nominations.
Her fans flocked early: Doc Martens-wearing disciples, standing in long lines snaking down the block. Tampa native Olivia Charron, 20, arrived at 4 a.m. to stake out her place in line. It beat her last commute to see Bridgers, a nine-hour drive to Alabama. That show is where she met her friend Skyler Wynn, 21, of Lakeland. As they pressed against the barricade, Wynn hoped Bridgers would play “Funeral,” her favorite song.
“I was grieving a lot with my dad dying,” Wynn said. “It was the idea that death is sad, but I don’t have to be.”
Other fans came sporting Bridgers-inspired outfits: namely, her signature skeleton pajamas look with white bones on a black onesie. It showed up on T-shirts, fingerless gloves, bodysuits, sheer black tights, even a stuffed rabbit wearing its own macabre ensemble. A $70 glow-in-the-dark hoodie version, matching the uniform her band wore, was sold at the merch tent along with matching $50 sweatpants with “Phoebe Bridgers” on the butt. After a soaring delivery of “Kyoto,” Bridgers removed her black blazer to reveal a glittering crop top, the beads curving to form a skeletal ribcage.
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The venue was not as well prepared, struggling to keep up with stifling heat and humidity. The trouble started during the opening set. Charlie Hickey, performing a new album recently put out by Bridgers’ Saddest Factory records, paused his performance to help.
“Can we get some more water?” he asked. “Over there? Everywhere?”
Security guards at the barricade passed out bottles of water, but by the time Bridgers took the stage, after the sun had set, it had only gotten worse. She stopped the set frequently to clear a path for emergency responders to help passed-out fans, including before, after and twice during ”Savior Complex.”
Despite battling the heat, Bridgers’ fans clung onto her performance, especially as she stepped into the storyteller role during her emotional folk ballads. During “Funeral,” the crowd enthusiastically sang along: “Jesus Christ, I’m so blue all the time. That’s just how I feel, always have and always will.”
Bridgers ended her set with a thunderous rendition of her apocalyptic song “I Know the End.” An illustration of a house floated on a digital background of stars behind her. As the music swelled into a tangle of trumpet, guitar licks, booming drums and screams, flames swallowed the house behind her and orange and red lights engulfed the stage. When she left, the only image remaining on the screen was a pile of rubble over a smear of stars swirling into a black hole.
She emerged alone with a guitar for the encore, bathed in blue light.
“I like going to places with an especially f--ked up government because the youth is so angry and cool,” Bridgers told the crowd. “It doesn’t feel safe to be in the world right now. I mean, America. It’s just so gross and that’s it. F---k DeSantis.”
The crowd erupted.
“F--k all of ‘em,” she said.