Live: Phoenix at the Wiltern
It’s been a surprisingly fortuitous year for French pop band Phoenix. When the band's latest album, “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix,” leaked back in March, bloggers and critics alike were tripping over themselves to herald it as the feel-good pop record that needed to be heard.
But it was an appearance on "Saturday Night Live" in April that really stoked the fires, when the band debuted the equally effervescent singles “Lisztomania” and “1901.” To close the show, they chose to pull out the song “Too Young,” from their 2000 debut album, “United.” Used to great effect in the movies “Shallow Hal” and “Lost in Translation,” it’s one of the finest (and most criminally underrated) songs of the decade, a warm confluence of thick ‘80s synth melodies, chiming guitars and singer Thomas Mars’ pleading vocals. The performance was a gentle reminder that Phoenix has been delivering the goods for almost a decade.
The air was thick with excitement throughout the thoroughly sold-out Wiltern when the band took the stage promptly at 10 minutes after 9 p.m. and launched into the sunny skip of “Lisztomania” to nothing less than a hero’s welcome.
No mention was made of Mars’ recent illness, which had caused the band to cancel a show the night before in San Francisco, and he and his voice seemed no worse for wear (although he did take advantage of instrumentals like “Love Like a Sunset Part 1” to lie down and rest on the stage). The band charged through a snappy, highly caffeinated set of songs that will be the basis for a fantastic greatest hits compilation in years to come.
Touching on its entire catalog, the band ran through fan favorites such as “Consolation Prizes” and “Long Distance Call,” and the crowd eagerly lapped up every tune. They even incited a good old-fashioned stage invader, a willowy blond happy to simply get a hug from Mars before hopping back into the audience. The band leaned heavily on the dreamy romanticism of its latest album, and songs such as “Fences” and “Lasso” kept the crowd bouncing through the entire set.
It was an encore performance of“1901” that proved to be the song of the show, with the buzzing bass lines and shifting dance beat extended into an epic live remix that found Mars descending into the audience to sing a few verses. It was the perfect culmination of an uplifting set that proved Phoenix to be among the most exciting and substantial bands of the ‘00s.
The night’s most memorable moment happened when the show was over. As the lights came up to signal the end of theconcert, Michael Jackson’s “Rock With You” blasted out of the PA at full concert volume. Instead of filtering out of the theater, a majority of the crowd began dancing and singing along to the song. It was a magical scene that could’ve come straight from a movie, an impromptu and touching tribute to the enduring power of the King of Pop.
-- Scott T. Sterling
Photo: Pascal Textiera