Absolutely nothing could stop the good mood at 7th and Willow with Phoenix in town. The rain that hung around all day finally gave up. The threatening reach of winter retracted, as well, leaving the night pleasantly cool and dry and ready for the Parisian invasion.
When the lights disappeared, the palpable energy in the room did an about face, just in time to see the backdrop light up, a blimp above the stage declaring Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, the title of the band’s latest release. It’s odd when something so simple has such a profound effect. In this case, the buzz in the room was doubled by three simple words. A keyboard fuzz engulfed the room, and swelled accordingly as the band members made there ways out slowly, letting the situation build. The keyboards folded into a familiar piano intro, and “Lisztomania” ensued. The anticipatory fire in the room needed no fuel, but Thomas Mars and his co-conspirators had just thrown the whole drum onto the situation. It felt both premeditated and spontaneous, the perfect way to start the show. It also served as a statement of intent to the ears in the room, most of whom were bearing witness to live Phoenix for the first time. These guys meant business.
The opener’s endless catchiness bounced off of every corner. It was as infectious as expected, but went further, shedding some of the studio’s vibrato-pop for thicker, more rock based territory. “Long Distance Call” from 2006’s It’s Never Been Like That followed the intense opener, then “Lasso” came out of the cannon next, offering a perfect balance of speed and swagger, giving the crowd a chance to breathe and locate their cocktail straws. “Run Run Run,” from 2004’s Alphabetical, crept out next, allowing newer fans a glance into the band’s more sinister side, transforming the room into a sticky, forgotten corner of a distant red light district for four minutes. The sweat dried quickly, however.
The set briefly became a roll call for the new album, starting with Wolfgang’s “Fences.” As captivating as any track on the new album, this record lands somewhere between aphrodisiac and shoulder massage. “Girlfriend” and “Armistice” followed, with Mars turning crowd member to sing the latter of the two new gems. The evening’s true highlight emerged next, as Mars climbed back onstage and the intro to “Love Like A Sunset Part One” began, like some sort of revamped “Tubular Bells.” The slow crescendo vibrating the whole room was only intensified by the lights, flashing red to blackout like an equalizer on the verge of explosion. As shuffling feet began to literally go numb beneath the instrumental thunder, the song reached its false peak, ebbing somewhat euphorically into “Part Two,” with its lines, “Here comes/visible illusion/ Oh where it starts it ends/You’re like a sunset.” The few revealing lyrics breaking through as the fuzz freakout fades to an acoustic ending felt like a salt breeze after a hurricane. The room was breathless, speechless, and visibly appreciative of the effort and spirit the band was producing.
Seizing the opportunity to educate the crowd, the band offered a few older tunes via the upbeat “Too Young,” “Rally” and the classic “Consolation Prizes”. The keyboard fireworks of new guy “Rome” seemed to close the set, but after some discussion, they band kicked into “Funky Squaredance,” the aptly named meltdown from_United_ that drifts from Americana to break beat 80’s scratch in a matter of minutes, before evolving again into darkish Pink Floyd riff territory with robot rock vocals and whirring guitar solos, ending the set in a frenzy of light and applause.
Those applause continued until Phoenix returned for an encore, quieting the crowd with an acoustic version of Air’s “Playground Love” before fully igniting it again with a fantastic “If I Ever Feel Better” and the sensational “1901”, which stretched into a lengthy dance party before wrapping up with a brief vocal reprise to close the curtains on a truly stunning stateside performance.