Never have I ever...seen Phoenix in such an intimate setting in the 13 years of getting to cover them—and it was AMAZING!
I was first introduced to the live Phoenix experience in 2009 at the Monolith Festival in all the historically awesomeness surroundings of Red Rocks Aphitheater. I was just acquainting myself to their music and that fall festival performance was on the heels of their Grammy earning release, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, introducing themselves on the larger stage of the world. That first year of that record’s existence and the rise of Phoenix is beautifully documented by Francisco Soriano and Antoine Wagner in their documentary film, From a Mess to the Masses. Definitely worth checking out if you’re as big a Phoenix fan I've become over the span of their career since. OK, that's enough nerding out for now...
The familiar faces of the French quartet (Thomas Mars, Deck D’Arcy, Laurent Brancowitz, Christian Mazzalai) along with touring members Robin Courdet and Thomas Hedlund were introduced to the sold out crowd at the Riviera Theatre with a Baroquesque instrumental melody as the curtains rose and with a bright flash of light Phoenix was back!
Thomas Mars blended into the French countryside background as he sang the opening lines of crowd pleaser "Lisztomania." It felt very much like reconnecting with old friends we haven’t seen in years. And like that, Mars’ excitement and energy to be back on stage was evident. Nearly crawling into the audience himself in the opening three songs of the band’s nearly two-hour set, Mars was embodying his own French arch serenading fans who had eagerly held their spot in the front row.
Very similarly to the Musée d'Orsay or The Louvre, the 21-song set was comprised mostly of the favorites and hits spanning the band’s catalogue of albums. As a fan of all of their discography and an artist myself, I felt like a kid left to my own devices in an art museum running around and basking in the greatness of these meticulously crafted pieces of art for my ears. I couldn’t help but enjoy the childlike innocence conveyed at times on Mars’ face as he took in his surroundings and truly fed on the energy of the audience, who danced along with each song without missing a beat.
The set was beautifully broken up with an intermission-like pause leaving d’Arcy and the touring keyboardist, Coudert, to serenade us with “Love like a Sunrise” in its entirety paired with these gorgeous visuals projecting satellite ariels of Chicago and taking out into the interstellar realms of space before returning back to earth and microscopically delving into the cell of the human hand. Très magnifique!
This is just one example of the perfect curation of lights and visuals that framed the band throughout their set and immersed me into this romanticized world I have a tendency to visit when I get personally lost in Phoenix’s music. The first two new singles ("Alpha Zulu" and "Tonight") were slyly inserted into both halves of the evening’s show. The second single "Tonight" had been freshly introduced to the world just a few hours prior, along with the announcement of their forthcoming record Alpha Zulu. The track itself features Ezra Koenig of Vampire Weekend and the album is due on Nov. 4.
Making a post-pandemic return both to the music scene and performing to a live audience the setlist was a perfect collection of songs for the band to re-acclimate themselves in our hearts and for the fans to sing along their favorite lyrics. The set included “Funky Squaredance,” which I found really interesting as during a portion of it a mysteriously masked figure arrived onstage and Mars came to his knees singing up at him him in what was seemingly in tribute of something. Closing the main set out with my personal favorite, “Rome,” bringing the house down as everyone chanted along with the chorus “Rome, Rome, Rome, Rome.”
The evening concluded on a tender note with Mars and d’Arcy returning onstage for the a broken down Baroque version of “Fiore di Latte” on a big blue harpsichord. He serenaded us from on top of it. Afterwards the rest of the band returned to stage for “Trying to be Cool” where Mars sang while peering out in the crowd with projection binoculars that displayed who was peering at in the crowd on the screen behind him. A fun gimmick which would’ve made the great French director, Francois Truffaut proud. Bringing the crowd back to their high note our final song for the evening was “1901” that left me basking in giddiness and Mars individually thanking the crowd and waving goodbye until next time before returning to stage for a final bow.
See photos of the Chicago show, by Josh Darr.