Phoenix review – pop-rock stalwarts deliver a spectacular show

O2 Academy Brixton, London
Four-piece lean into the melodrama of live music and their Frenchness in a show as lavish as Versailles

Phoenix are the definition of a good-time band. The French four-piece’s bubbly pop-rock overflows with joyful choruses and guitar lines that noodle around each other, creating a tapestry of warmth, feeling and fun. It transforms a rainy Wednesday night into an indie singalong that’s joyous enough to turn a soggy crowd into a mass of bobbing grins.

Taking to the stage while a regal harpsichord composition plays, Phoenix lean into their Frenchness, into the melodrama of live music and into the digital spectacle that underpins the entire show. Cleverly programmed screens are, at turns, as opulent as the Palace of Versailles and as trippy as a Pink Floyd light show.

The band make it clear that they aren’t here to tease by launching straight into their perky 2009 hit Lisztomania. It’s always risky to get one of your biggest hits out of the way at the top of the show, but it sets the tone for the evening beautifully. Some valiant attempts are made to sing along to the nonsensical lyrics, and a man in front of me seems overcome by the moment and starts clapping along, not to the beat of the song itself but to what seems to be the rhythm of his own delight. There’s a pause at the end of Lasso which signals for the crowd to go positively feral.

Now comfortably in middle age, there are fewer antics tonight than at Phoenix shows of yore – singer Thomas Mars doesn’t scale any pillars, although he does stand on a piano at one point. He wanders into the audience at the end of the show as though it’s not complete until he’s felt the crowd pressed up against him. The band has energy throughout, but Mars’s voice has always been a little monotone, and tonight it feels like he’s going through the motions, as if he doesn’t need to think about what he’s singing because he’s sung it all a million times before.

He confesses at one point that playing London always makes Phoenix nervous – “I think it’s ’cause our first show was at Tokyo Joe’s … and we failed miserably.” It’s hard to imagine this band “failing miserably” at a show as perfectly tooled and joyful as this – or indeed playing a tiny place like the long-closed Tokyo Joe’s basement on Piccadilly, which would have barely been able to accommodate four floppy-haired, long-limbed Frenchmen enthusiastically bouncing around on the stage.

With a seven-album back catalogue to draw on, there is little of this year’s Alpha Zulu in the mix – 2009’s break-out Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix forms the majority of the set, peppered with favourites from Bankrupt and the less-beloved Ti Amo. But of the three newer tracks, Alpha Zulu is resplendent, Mars’s “ooh-ahhs” as silly and fun as anything Phoenix have ever done. It’s a show that’s almost impossible to feel cynical about – fantastically staged and full of heart.


Kate Solomon

The GuardianTramp

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