Phoenix, the French kings of indie rock, are without a doubt one of the most influential and loved alternative bands of the 21st century. What started as a small musical experiment in the late 90’s has transformed into a massive success, with the band headlining huge festivals such as last year’s Coachella Festival and this year’s Lollapalooza Festival. The group, led by the charismatic Thomas Mars, released their fifth album ‘Bankrupt!’ early last year to much critical acclaim. They returned to Australia in March to perform on the travelling circus that is Future Music Festival, alongside a diverse selection of artists including Pharrell Williams and, Macklemore and Ryan Lewis.
Along with their appearances at Future Music Festivals all around the country, the band performed two (not very) intimate sideshows in Sydney and Melbourne, and I was privileged enough to attend Festival Hall on March 6th to see these French overlords of indie pop do their thing.
I fell in love with Phoenix after their fourth album ‘Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix’ was released in 2009. I can’t say that indie pop was a favourite genre of mine at the time, but their music – with its combination of mindless jumpy beats yet melancholic lyrics – was so fresh and exciting to me that it was literally love at first listen. The album’s two singles, 1901 and Lisztomania, became gigantic “hits” and bestowed the band with praise and fame.
Arriving at Festival Hall on March the 6th with my lovely friends Meleonie and Moa, I was feeling a rush of excitement for what I could only hope was going to be a crazy dance party once we got inside. The mixture of ages in crowd showed just how diverse Phoenix’s fan base is, with the older audience members probably remembering the band from their first album, 2000’s ‘United ‘.
After a long wait, the support act, hometown electro darlings World’s End Press, arrived with a cheer from the eager crowd who wanted to get the dance party started. Full of energy, they ripped through their setlist in less than 30 minutes featuring catchy tracks such as Drag Me Home and Second Day Uptown. The highlight of their set was definitely lead singer John Parkinson going bonkers as he danced around the stage in a mad frenzy.
Then it was time for the main affair. The members of Phoenix – Mars, Laurent Brancowitz, Deck D’arcy and Christian Mazzalai – announced their presence on stage by immediately bursting into ‘Bankrupt!’s lead single, oriental electro anthem Entertainment, which got the entire crowd dancing. A quick introduction and declaration of love for Melbourne from Mars was followed by a mighty roar from the audience. The band jumped back into the set, playing two songs from ‘Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix’, the Strokes-esque Lasso and the obvious crowd favourite, Lisztomania.
It was time to groove when the band begun to play Too Young, their breakout track from 2000, which was the world’s first proper introduction to the band. Next the band played one of my favourite Phoenix songs, the melancholically sweet Girlfriend, with the silky smooth Fences following on afterwards. The disco ball on the roof of Festival Hall was certainly getting a work out that night.
Five songs from their recent album followed in quick procession, beginning with the stop-start jumpiness of Don’t. The coolest moment of the night came from the perfectly time transition from Trying To Be Cool into Drakkar Noir. I have seen videos of them performing this feat of musicality, but in real life it seemed so much more authentic and slicker, with rainbow panel lights flashing behind the band during the performance.
The wooziness of both Chloroform and The Real Thing were met with a snowy mountain landscape and television static on the screen behind the band, which perfectly matched the chilliness of the songs.
The three instrumental tracks that mark the mid-point of the band’s last two albums also marked the mid-point of the set. Love Like A Sunset Part I and Part II from ‘Wolfgang’ and the title track from ‘Bankrupt!’ slowed down the set’s pace and allowed the audience to be purely mesmerized by the band’s talent.
After a guitar strum-off between the band’s two guitarists, Laurent Brancowitz and Deck D’arcy, Mars paused for a moment to stare into the crowd in front of him. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,” he said, “thank you for coming to see us and making this place packed. We’re so happy to be back here in Melbourne, it’s the best. I don’t say that every night, I promise! Thank you for dancing around and being crazy. Here’s something to keep you dancing.”
The crowd screamed with delight and the band jumped right back into action with the incredibly fun indie-rock track Consolation Prizes, the only song the band played from their 2006 album ‘It’s Never Been Like That’. S.O.S In Bel Air and Armistice kept the dance vibes going, with Mars ending up in the middle of the crowd by the end on the latter song.
Insanity ensured; standing on what I could only determined was a platform of people, Mars signaled for his band to begin playing the opening chords of 1901, my absolute favourite Phoenix song. He remained in the crowd for the song’s glorious entirety. He was literally a mere five metres away from me; it was a totally surreal and incredible experience.
Eventually he returned to the stage and the whole band left together indicating that the gig was at its end. But less than a minute later, Mars and Brancowitz returned with a guitar in hand and they performed a beautiful acoustic rendition of Countdown. The rest of the band joined them for a nostalgic overload with a mash up of If I Ever Feel Better and a shortened version of the normally 10-minute-long epic Funky Sqauredance.
The atmospherically beautiful Rome finished set, but the band were still not through with us just yet. Mars plunged into the crowd at the song’s end, whilst his band played an instrumental version of Entertainment. Equipped with a microphone with a super long red chord, Mars ran through the crowd in General Admission yelling “Thankyou, thankyou, thankyou!” over and over. He climbed onto the banisters along the seating, onto the balcony and back down the other side. After his 5-minute long adventure he was back on stage taking a bow with his bandmates.
They exited the stage to the sounds of a funky Daft Punk-esque dance number, which had people grooving along still deliriously hyped up from all the energy they had just exerted. It was an extraordinary show, which for the course of its hour-and-a-half had the entirety of Festival Hall united in a mega dance and sing-along party.
- Too Young
- Trying To Be Cool/Drakkar Noir
- The Real Thing
- Love Like A Sunset Part I
- Love Like A Sunset Part II
- Consolation Prizes
- S.O.S In Bel Air
- Countdown (Acoustic) [Encore]
- If I Ever Feel Better/Funky Sqauredance [Encore]
- Rome [Encore]