I’ve been feeling the pressure to post something insightful about summer music here in Madison, but I have been coming up short. Definitely wasn’t enough “whiskey in my whiskey” to truly appreciate that the Felice Brothers had a washboard player who doubled as an MC or psychedelic drugs to fully get in touch with Ozric Tentacles, and the even sadder part is that I have been to more shows outside of Madison than actually on or around campus.
Probably letting someone down because of that, but it isn’t me because I have gotten to see some fabulous acts in Milwaukee and Chicago so far this summer. The rumblings on the fifth floor of the Union have led me to believe, though, that there are even better things heading to much closer venues in the very near future…
But because I can’t write about shows I’ve yet to see, let me share with you one I did get to see! Last weekend, I trekked down to Chicago to fulfill a dream I have carried for a very long time: seeing Versailles-based pop band Phoenix live.
Phoenix, while fun and accessible, never really garnered the critical acclaim in the US earned by closely related acts Daft Punk and Air. That hasn’t gotten in the way of the crowds who have flocked to see them all perform all over the country following the release of their latest album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, which fueled appearances live on MTV and numerous late night night talk shows. (And let’s not forget the “Brat Pack Remix” video of “Lisztomania” with footage from everyone’s favorite 80’s high school films… even vocalist Thomas Mars thinks it is the best Phoenix video.)
I was lucky enough to attend the sold out show last week at Park West in Chicago. I’m not sure I can say enough how surprised I was at the sheer talent they brought to the stage. Phoenix is a band that I have enjoyed – even loved – since roughly 8th grade, but I never realized the high level of musicianship they possess. Each song was perfectly transitioned into the next with lingering notes and lyrical flow – until the very end of the set when “1901” dropped into silence in a single note. It seemed raw in the moment, but when the band reappeared for the encore and segued seamlessly back into the song to finish it, the intention was clear and effective.
Even more surprising, and wonderfully so, was the mid-set feature of “Love Like A Sunset,” a nearly-epic, almost entirely instrumental piece. The band was vibrant, and Mars took the opportunity to lean back and appreciate their tight, energetic sound.
The whole show was vivid and electric in a way that could have made even Five Times August covers seem like a treat to hear. The band interacted with each other and with a participating crowd, breathing life into every note and turning the venue, which at first felt like a disco converted into a cabaret bar, into the perfect setting for their particular brand of Euro pop.
And any show that closes with the frontman singing from the middle of a sold-out house, standing on a table – that’s got to be a great night.
Hopefully those planning to catch them on their remaining tour dates have a night as good as mine (which would include helping Mars from the stage during the encore and shaking hands with Laurent Brancowitz as well).
– Brigid Hogan