Phoenix @ House of Blues 10.1.13
by Ben Stas (English/Journalism), published October 9th 2013
photos by Ben Stas
Months of touring in support of this year’s Bankrupt!, including a pair of headlining slots at both weekends of the Coachella Valley Music and Arts Festival, have clearly honed Phoenix’s polished, arena-ready show. The Boston date on their current tour stopped short of the local mega-venues, but ultimately delivered something even more rewarding with a comparatively intimate gig at House of Blues. Fans got the nowadays rare chance to see the band deliver a perfectly executed set up close and personal.
Hailing from France, Phoenix have spent the past decade-plus crafting their own brand of progressive pop and building up an increasingly huge international fanbase. 2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, with its massive single “1901,” catapulted the band toward the huge venues and festivals it frequents these days. The attention was rightfully deserved, as Wolfgang is surely one of the finest pop records of the 2000s. This year’s Bankrupt! might feel a little less immediate on record, but the band’s performance managed to translate even its least hooky songs into anthemic jams. They have a knack for that.
Lead single “Entertainment,” which never suffers for lack of hooks in the first place, opened the show. Followed immediately by a one-two punch of Wolfgang’s “Lasso” and “Lisztomania,” it was a flawless buildup of momentum that never waned throughout the rest of the 24(!) song set. Phoenix come across as seasoned pros at this point in their career, but they never look bored or complacent on stage. They perform with an almost machine-like precision, but still exude the enthusiasm of a band who genuinely enjoy what they do. This was true of no one more so than frontman/vocalist Thomas Mars, who spent the show constantly at the edge of the stage and atop the monitors, venturing into the crowd on more than one occasion. Call it a gimmick to traverse the audience and thank individual members of the crowd for coming during a performance, but when the guy doing so is risking bodily injury by climbing scaffolding to reach the balcony, there’s a real sense of earnestness to it.
In terms of sound, Phoenix’s performance was an accurate recreation of their slick studio blend of synths, guitars and live drums, accentuated by extended instrumentals, creative segues and intriguing reworkings; familiar and fresh all at once. Deck D’Arcy and Thomas Hedlund’s rhythm section thundered behind the keys and guitars of Laurent Brancowitz, Christian Mazzalai and Robin Coudert, coalescing into a powerful sound that was difficult not to dance to. The unmistakable crunch of “1901” sounded particularly excellent over a potent set of speakers.
A night that began with an enthusiastic and well-received set by British rockers The Vaccines concluded with Mars encouraging a hundred or so fans to storm the stage as Phoenix wrapped up its encore with a welcome reprise of “Entertainment.” More than a few House of Blues security guards probably hated their jobs right then and there, but it was a fittingly climactic end to a through-and-through excellent performance.