Wednesday, June 17th, 2009
Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix
Phoenix and Amazing Baby at the Phoenix in Toronto
Frank YangYou might think the novelty of seeing Phoenix (the band) at the Phoenix (the venue) might have worn off during the two months between the announcement and the actual show on Monday, but it really didn’t. But besides that, the prospect of seeing the French band perform their superb new album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix live was plenty of reason to be excited, and I wasn’t alone in that sentiment – the show was completely sold out.
Their tourmates for this jaunt were Amazing Baby, hailing from the slightly less glamorous locale of Brooklyn. Though the band had played our Hot Freaks showcase at SxSW back in March, I missed them on account of being terrorized by Peelander-Z – I had given their new album Rewild, out next week, a few spins so they weren’t a complete unknown. The album is a melting pot of rock styles, most prominently glam in the ’70s sense of the word, but in live presentation the band’s aesthetic was more garage/80s rock-correct than anything else – lots of hair whipping and even some two-handed guitar tapping. You don’t see that every day. Their set barely clocked in at 25 minutes and didn’t make as much of an impression as their album was beginning to – I’ll spend more time with that before firming up any opinions.
I required no such critical faculties for Phoenix – just set endorphin receptors to 10, wait for them to kick off with “Lisztomania” and let go. If you’ve only heard their studio albums, or even just their latest as I’ve already said I have, you might think that their pristine production and absurdly precise musicianship is a studio creation. Live, however, they expand from a four-piece to six and are every bit as tight and even more dynamic. The massive pop hooks were recreated impeccably but the also demonstrated their ability to get far heavier and funkier than their recorded works had ever implied. It’s easy to think of Phoenix as a breezy pop band but they can get down and dirty – yet remain sonically immaculate – when they choose to.
Watching the band run through a set naturally heavy on Wolfgang but still drawing from their other three albums, you couldn’t help but be impressed with how hard they worked to make it sound so effortless. Singer Thomas Mars frequently looked winded and got progressively sweatier after each song, unsurprising considering how much physicality he put into his performance, roaming around the stage, climbing monitors and generally working the crowd like a pro. It was thus understandable that during the instrumental interlude of “Love Like A Sunset”, he simply lay down on the stage, back against a floor monitor, to recover for a few minutes. And the breather did him well as the band managed to take a show that had run pretty much full-tilt from the word go and take it to another level for the end, whipping the crowd into a frenzy.
All through the night Mars and his bandmates had a sort of incredulous look on their faces, perhaps not quite believing the breadth and intensity of the audience’s enthusiasm. After all, Phoenix were supposed to be one of those bands that no one could understand why they didn’t break out big – they weren’t actually supposed to break out big. But for this night, at least, they were greeted like conquering heroes and no one wanted it to end. So with the final number of the encore, the irresistible “1901”, the band thought they were finished – instruments were unstrapped and amplifiers turned off – but guitarist Laurent Brancowitz kept playing the staccato riff, unwilling to admit it was over – and quickly instruments and amps went back on and they played the outro again, Mars taking the opportunity to leap into the audience and commune properly with their fans. After that euphoric finish, it was finally over and one of the better albums of the year so far had begot one of the best shows of the year so far.
Photos: Phoenix, Amazing Baby @ The Phoenix – June 15, 2009
MP3: Amazing Baby – “Bayonets”
Video: Phoenix – “1901”
Video: Phoenix – “1901” (acoustic)
Video: Phoenix – “Lisztomania”
Video: Phoenix – “Consolation Prize”
Video: Phoenix – “If I Ever Feel Better”
Video: Phoenix – “Long Distance Call”
Video: Phoenix – “Twenty-One One Zero”
Video: Phoenix – “Run Run Run”
Video: Amazing Baby – “Headdress”
MySpace: Amazing Baby
Austin instrumentalists The Octopus Project are at Lee’s Palace on July 28, tickets $8.50.
Apparently a new 7″ is all the excuse that Modest Mouse need to hit the road. They’ll release a new single on June 23 – Spinner is streaming the a-side right now – and traverse North America in August. The Toronto date is August 21 at the Sound Academy and tickets are $30.
Loney Dear, who had to cancel their May Toronto date on account of a busted-up van, will make that up on October 13 with a show at the Horseshoe – and as a bonus, they’re bringing Asobi Seksu along with them. Actually, Asobi might headline – they’re a much larger draw hereabouts. Full tour dates at Pitchfork.