LIVE REVIEW: PHOENIX @ BARCLAYS CENTER
story +pics / Adeline Tan
The rise of the Phoenix! Just off their sky rocketing success of their fourth album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix in 2009, things started to get a little insane for the French four-piece. That release not only did remarkably well in the United States, but also won a Grammy for Best Alternative Music Album the following January. Phoenix is known by fans worldwide as the alternative indie rock band from Versailles, France consisting of Thomas Mars (vocalist), Deck d’Arcy (bassist), Christian Mazzalai (guitarist) and Laurent Brancowitz (guitarist). On February 18th 2013, the band released Entertainment, their first song from the band’s new album Bankrupt!. Bankrupt! debuted #4 on the American Billboard 200 album chart and the Phoenix World Tour will be completed over a large part of 2013, which led to the band performing at the iconic Barclays Center in Brooklyn, NY last Wednesday night, October 2nd 2013.
All too often an individual’s expectations for a concert are too great, setting themselves up for disappointment when the actual experience was merely decent. Occasionally though (maybe even rarely) the concert itself exceeds previously ridiculous high expectations. Phoenix, with the Vaccines, live in the Barclays Center was one of those exceptional instances. The first thing that stuck out to me about Phoenix’s performance came within a couple songs. Lead singer, Thomas Mars can sing! The vocal scope he has on the albums, though it may be somewhat limited there, is precisely what he has performing live. This wasn’t an interpretation of the sound they have honed for the last ten years; this is Phoenix’s brand of pop music.
I can’t envision how they ever did a show in anything smaller than an arena, as it seems that this foursome; especially Mars was born for the big stage. Indeed, the electro rock/synth-pop band’s performance, as well as their effortlessly cool European appearance, matched the brilliance of their surroundings every step of the way. Smoke, spotlights, strobes and a digitized backdrop created detailed set pieces for each song, turning them into unique, astonishing audio-visual sensations that totally consumed the venue. Opening with Entertainment and continuing with two correspondingly great songs from their full spectrum of tunes, Lasso and Lisztomania which caused the audience to go wild! I noticed that any song played off their fourth album received quite a reaction and an elevated enthusiasm. Lisztomania rung out, the crowd roared expectedly and the band almost didn’t have to sing at all. As everybody sang along with every word, you could tell that it invigorated the band. The crowd jumped with a familiar fervor, this was music that felt like it was being played with no filters on its source in the heart of the songwriters.
Each song, from the unbelievably catchy harmonies of Entertainment, through the charming grace of The Real Thing and an old favorite Long Distance Call to the energetic, upbeat dance grooves of S.O.S. In Bel Air totally consumed the venue. The band didn’t just play these songs, they guaranteed that the arena became these songs, and that the songs became the arena. There was no escape from the influence, not that anybody wanted to escape it. But beyond that, Phoenix also gave a performance of invention and innovation. Too Young, Girlfriend and S.O.S. In Bel Air morphed into one song with flawless precision. The music seemed to be written with this large format presentation in mind the whole time. Even older songs like Too Young, which many people first heard on the soundtrack of the movie Lost in Translation, sounded like it was meant to be experienced completely in this kind of setting. Hearing intellectual lyrics in such intensely catchy music with such a vibrant and dramatic performance made the show greater. Phoenix continued their set with Run Run Run, Trying To Be Cool and Drakkar Noir.
They played just about all their hit songs, no incomprehensible deep cuts or French songs mixed in, just what the fans would have wanted. After an uninterrupted dozen or so of those songs performed without a break or much repartee, Mars disappeared as his band mates played the mainly instrumental Love Like a Sunset while the screen behind the band portrayed a drive through the streets of Paris. Until then the concert was low on pizazz, mainly just straightforward singing and playing but this was the first of a few surprises. Subsequently there was a blast of fake $100 bills into the crowd when Sunskrupt! played which combined Bankrupt! and both parts of Love Like A Sunset, and still fell down during Consolation Prizes. Phoenix made it rain $100 Richard Prince labeled dough in Barclays Center!
Mars jumped into the crowd, not for the last time, as he sang the anthemic 1901, the juggernaut that arguably made them renowned. The crowd was more hyped up in this moment than they were at the beginning of the show. I’ve never seen a crowd get more and more enthusiastic as an hour-and-a-half winds along. Mars stayed close to the crowd, sitting at the edge of the stage with fans’ hands surrounding him for the one lullaby of the evening, Countdown. After ending the core set with an inspirational, high-octane and boisterous version of 1901, Mars with guitarist Christian Mazzalai performed a stripped down version of Countdown. The slow version of the song was lovely, melancholy and haunting in equal measure, Mars stood on the barrier while he sang, the weight of the crowd hanging heavy on every word. There was no time to get wrapped up in the silent melancholy of the moment, as soon as the song was done, the rest of the band returned to the stage and instantaneously propelled into the feverish, climatic If I Ever Feel Better which developed the tension according to Mars, for “one of the first songs we ever wrote…a dance song, so feel free to dance!” the Funky Squaredance.
After the encore, Phoenix took to the stage with the energetic song Rome, accompanied with flashing pink and blue lights on stage. Following a fleeting thank you, the reprise of Entertainment filled the space and Mars was back in the crowd again, up close and personal for one last farewell amongst the audience in their seats. The look of awe and astonishment on his face as he walked through the seats and stared up at those on the upper levels above him said it all. Mars moved from the stage through the arena, making his way through the arena seats as his red microphone cord overextended as far as the eye could see, all the way to the back then up front again, through the center of the floor. Mars then crowd surfed through the crowd and was lifted through the sea of people onto the stage. A truly splendid, memorable night by a group very much on top of their game, it was obviously just as special for the band as it was for everybody watching. To end the show, Mars caused a frenzy when he started tugging people onto the stage to join the band in closing the show. Trust me, people pushed and heaved their way onto that stage! Who cares if security perhaps detested the welcoming gesture and the herd of fans climbing over barriers to get onto the stage, Mars knew he wanted the crowd to be part of such an extraordinary moment!
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