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Friday, Dec. 13, 2013

Phoenix @ The Rave

Dec. 12, 2013

phoenix at the rave by kiri lin
Photo Credit: Kiri Lin
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Having two nearly flawless albums to your name is no small feat for any artist, but Phoenix accomplished it when they followed 2006’s It’s Never Been Like That with Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix in 2009. The single “Lisztomania” from that follow-up album made the band popularly famous beyond the critical acclaim they’d received in the past from media outlets like Pitchfork, which lauded their craftsmanship and ambition, but at their roots they’re still an indie band from France playing for small and large crowds with as much enthusiasm and gusto as their mainstream French pop counterparts, and robots, Daft Punk. This year the band released the somewhat lackluster Bankrupt!, their fifth full-length album and a dancier, more synthetic redefinition of a sound that had been accused of being systematic in the past.

Over the course of a 13-song set, the group played selections from throughout their catalog as part of 102.1 FM’s eighth Big Snow Show Thursday night. It was clear through juxtaposition how much their sound has transitioned from the more classic rock-leaning, riff-based work of United to the over-the-top pop sounds of Bankrupt! The band’s stage presentation has been modified to accompany it, incorporating a customized light show and artsy visuals, including a grainy video from the front of an automobile during Wolfgang’s two-part, mostly instrumental epic “Love Like A Sunset,” which captures what it might be like to drive through the streets of Paris on any given day in the same way that Destroyer’s 2011 video for “Savage Night at the Opera” gives us some insight as to what it might be like to cruise around Vancouver on a motorcycle.


What really carried the performance was the group’s showmanship and endearing stage presence. Within two songs, lead singer Thomas Mars was stepping off the stage and into the audience. Throughout the show, it was clear that the group was genuinely having fun performing their songs and adding subtle modifications like unexpected pauses and alternate riffs to songs like “Consolation Prizes,” which keeps things fresh and interesting for longtime fans and presumably for the band members themselves.


Apparently, not everybody in the crowd was a longtime fan, since a good chunk left after “Lizstomania.” And that’s too bad. There was no encore, but the band closed an excellent set playing to all of their strengths, including reprising “Entertainment,” but not before Mars was able to crawl out on top of the audience and perform standing on the hands of the crowd. As a whole it was over-the-top, novel, a little cheesy, endearing and ultimately pretty awesome—exactly what pop music should be—wrapped up in the kind of performance that’s likely to convert casual fans into devoted followers.

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