Phoenix, Amazing Baby Thursday, June 25, 2009 The Bluebird Better Than: Every show I've seen in the past year.
Something happened last night at the Bluebird. I'm not sure exactly what the chemistry was, whether it was the world's trendiest band or the fact that we are all feeling gooey about the passing of the world's greatest pop star. The point is, pop music was God last night at the Bluebird. What I mean is, it was our salvation, and Thomas Mars was our savior. When he walked out into the crowd and climbed the guardrail, people literally laid hands on him. Do I sound like I'm off the deep end? I'm telling you, people were dancing their way out of there, everyone grinning like an idiot and breaking the one cardinal rule of hipsterism by being completely earnest.
So the performance was very good. Phoenix are, at this point, riding something bigger than themselves, and they absolutely know it. You don't stay a band for thirteen years and think your success has to do with much more than luck. They hit the moment so perfectly, synth-pop in the summer of just that, and it doesn't hurt that Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is a wonderful album, good enough to give you the warm fuzzies no matter what's cool right now.
They can't help but smile between songs as the undulating mass in the sold-out Bluebird screams its approval. The band is all standing there and taking in the scene, absorbing, clearly not about to forget a second of this. And you can almost read their minds. Isn't life beautiful?
Then the next song starts, and Mars resumes his teetering around the stage, nearly falling over, acting like he's at some sort of Baptist revival and he's been struck by the Spirit. The drummer, who appears to be on contract for the tour and whose name I can't find anywhere (anyone know who this guy is?) meanwhile, is all straight up and down, head bowed in a proper head-bang. This guy is a badass and a serious wailer. Just in case you thought this is some prissy European outfit, mincing around in their leather boots (OK, they did have those). Anyway, our mysterious drummer is popping off his throne to get more leverage, raising his hand straight into the air and cranking away on the two and fours. Bassist Deck D'Arcy has this thing where he screws up his face when he's singing, like the music is some sort of nearly painful exertion. The band's energy is infectious, and even the head-bobbers in the back can't help but look like they're having a good time.
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Phoenix is a band that understands the value of contrasts. Many of the group's songs depend on it, great waves of sound and then trickles to remind you what the difference is. And this is never more effective than when the act fake-end "1901" as the last song of the encore. The members stand there, the lights blazing, the crowd going horse, and that's when Mars jumps down into the maw of sweaty bodies and the beat comes back and you would have to be dead not to be happy right then. The music fades and they head offstage and the DJ has the good sense to play some Michael Jackson. Half the crowd stays to dance. Members of Phoenix return to the stage with cameras, just to see it all. I leave during "PYT," which is the fourth Jacko song of the post-show dance party, as the crowd is starting to thin just a little. No point staying -- the magic can only fade from here.
Critic's Notebook Personal Bias: Not much. I like the guys and I was looking forward to the show, but I could pretty much take Phoenix or leave them before this. Random Detail: Someone brought the Thriller LP cover and held it in the air throughout the night in tribute. By The Way: I was talking with an intern from a news outlet whose name escapes me, and he interviewed Phoenix earlier in the day. Apparently they said their favorite part of the show is jamming on "Love Is Like A Sunset," which I thought was the most boring part of the evening. I think this sort of disconnect between audience enjoyment and band enjoyment happens all the time. I also think jams are never a very good idea. All that said, Phoenix has earned the right to do whatever the fuck they want at this point.
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Indie 101.5's Raphie captured this footage of last night's post-show impromptu dance party referred to above. (Fair warning: Footage is shaky and somewhat nausea-inducing.)
Considerably less shaky video (well, until the end) from Merry Swankster.