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Concert Review: Phoenix with Two Door Cinema Club (Austin, 4/29)

May 1, 2010

Going to see Phoenix at Stubb’s on Thursday night was the first time in a while that I have been to a seriously hyped show.  Most of the shows I went to during SXSW and since then were pretty low-key.  And wow, it is a serious awakening when you realize that people are like, screaming excited to see a band that you were only pretty excited to see.

Some explanation: Phoenix is one of those bands that grew on me very, very slowly.  Last summer, while the rest of the country was freaking out over “Lisztomania,” Phoenix was playing 3 songs on Saturday Night Live (á la U2, Coldplay, and Paul McCartney), and “1901” was being picked up for Cadillac commercials, I remained fairly lukewarm on the French band’s popularity.  I bought and listened to Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.  Still nothing.  But finally, the radio’s trickery worked its magic on me…incessant radio play of Phoenix’s big hits actually endeared me to the songs somewhere along the way.  I added most of the album to my iPod mix and have been listening to it for around three months now, which is why I was motivated to pick up tickets to their show at Stubb’s.

Though I like Phoenix quite a lot, Austin LOVES Phoenix.  It was a fully packed house at Stubb’s, and once the band took the stage, the wildly enthusiastic crowd went nuts and didn’t let up for the duration of the show.  To Phoenix’s credit, it’s not hard to understand why.  Their songs (especially their chart-toppers) make people feel a sense of majesty; they’re big, scenic, inspired, and it just feels good to listen to them.  Watching the crowd – and despite the fact that a good portion of the crowd were highly irritating hammered frat boys and trashed sorority gals – it was clear that many of Phoenix’s hardcore fans have lived and breathed Wolfgang for the past year.  While it’s easy to be cynical about a band that has such widespread popularity and accessibility, I’ve always been of the mindset that it’s kind of ridiculous to resent a band for being so appealing and it’s even sillier to wish that people didn’t like the same music you like.

Click the jump to read my take on the show, and to see more pictures and video!

Phoenix began their show with the punch of “Lisztomania,” followed by “Long Distance Caller” from 2006’s It’s Never Been Like That, and played every song save for one from Wolfgang, but also pulled out a couple of oldies (“Funky Squaredance” and “If I Ever Feel Better”) from their 2000 debut album United.  They’ve been taking lessons from the School of Crowd-Pleasing, pulling the ol’ “that’s it for now, good night!” routine after only about 45 minutes, walking off the stage and leaving a ticking metronome in their wake, only to return a couple of minutes later to uproarious applause.

Altogether, Phoenix has a surprisingly sophisticated stage show.  When you’re as popular and touring as much as they are, it makes sense, but considering they’ve been a band for 15 years, there’s something about their stage presence that still feels new in a good way – fresh and exciting.  It doesn’t hurt that lead singer Thomas Mars (partner of Sofia Coppola) has a great youthful voice, sounding shockingly close to the record most of the time, always on key and with perfectly timed vocal hiccups.  After returning to the stage for the second encore, Mars even took on two slow, stripped-down songs (“Love For Granted”, and a cover of Air’s “Playground Love”) and sounded skillful doing it; a fairly daring move after priming the crowd with more than an hour of danceable indie-pop.

He’s also definitely mastered the rock star moves, hopping on the monitors and rocking his microphone like a pro all throughout the show.  During the closer, the mega-hit “1901,” Mars appeared on the very familiar steps of the back porch of Stubb’s, falling into the audience with his microphone and, miraculously, making it back to the front of the stage unscathed.

But Mars doesn’t deserve all the credit for the show; bassist Deck d’Arcy, guitarists Christian Mazzalai and Laurent Bracowitz, keyboardist Robin Coudert, and their guest drummer from Two Door Cinema Club (their regular drummer was ill) provide the sonic backgrounds to Mars’ vocals.  Hearing the songs from Wolfgang played live, they now seem deceptively simple on the album.  There is actually quite a bit going on – the complex drum rhythms, intricate combinations of synth and keyboard melodies, and a whole lot of bass riffs almost defy Phoenix’s status as a pop band.  Live, their songs weren’t just cool, they were striking.

In short, Phoenix lived up to the hype I referred to at the start of this post.  And even though I wasn’t straight up squealing like some of their other fans, they exceeded my expectations and are growing into a fantastic live band, moving beyond simply playing their tunes to actually providing a concert experience worthy of the ticket price.  I was impressed not only with their musicianship, but with their light show, their stage show, and everything that came with it.  Give them another hit album, and they’re going to be serious contenders for the stadium scene.

And, speaking of Two Door Cinema Club, the Northern Irish indie band provided excellent entertainment before Phoenix hit the stage.  I’ll admit it actually took me two or three songs to get into them, but once I did, I really enjoyed their set.  They’re a very young band – their debut album Tourist History was released just days before their show at Stubb’s – whose sound is pretty analogous to Phoenix’s.  In fact, one of their selling points as a band was their remix of Phoenix’s “Lasso.” Overall, they came across as a younger, less experienced counterpart to Phoenix, with tons of energy, and more drive to please the crowd than usually seen from a support act.  I look forward to seeing and hearing more from them.

Check out more photographs of Phoenix on my Flickr page, including close-ups of Thomas Mars and him sitting on the railing at Stubb’s.  Enjoy!

One Comment leave one →
  1. Naomi permalink
    May 2, 2010 8:59 am

    I loved the review. Glad it was still a good show despise all the drunkies. 😀

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