Frontier Psychiatrist

Phoenix Spreads Its Wings at MSG

Posted on: October 25, 2010

Phoenix - Not Easily Offended

The first full day of CMJ 2010 presented ambitious competition among the dozens of venues and bands vying for attention. At the outset, it seemed the toughest task might be for relative newcomer Phoenix, from Paris, France, to headline a show at Madison Square Garden – the World’s Most Famous Arena.

To their credit, Phoenix showed up while the rest of France was on strike.   Despite a heavy 2010 tour schedule that included Bonnaroo, Lollapalooza, and Outside Lands, a Grammy and the soundtrack to ubiquitous commercials, Phoenix does not fit with many other Madison Square Garden pop headliners (Lady Gaga, Muse, Shakira) and doesn’t seem to have the deep cultivated following of recent MSG headliner, The Arcade Fire.  Yet, by the time the French quartet (with two additional band members on keyboard and percussion) began, the Garden was packed.

Smoke and sirens blended into synthesized chords and as the air cleared the first lines of “Lisztomania” snuck through the dark.  Light broke revealing a simple stage that could easily be at many other CMJ venues and the band and audience in unison broke into head-bopping cheerful dance pop.   The opening minutes of the set included similarly pop-y “Lasso” and “Long Distance Call” and a trip from frontman Thomas Mars to the front row of the GA section.   Phoenix showed early signs that they would not simply be playing their hit album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix as recorded, by featuring extended, rocking jams on “Long Distance Call” and later, “Armistice.”

Roughly half an hour into the show (and after playing five of the ten songs on Wolfgang), there was a clear creative shift: with “Love Like a Sunset” the Garden was filled with red light that slowly melted into an overhead projection of the night sky.  In the songs that followed, the band was back-lit by low slender light towers that evoked distant skyscrapers.  The mood and in fact the band shifted again, as two acoustic songs were performed from the sound board at the rear of the GA section, including a Johnny Hallyday cover that Mars described as a “1960s French pop song” that might be called “La Fille Aux Cheveux Clairs” (I think it involves a window and a face. Ms. Amis would be very disappointed with me).  It was an unlikely calm moment where Phoenix boldly introduced its mostly new fans to an unfamiliar musical influence that one would expect from an intimate MTV Unplugged, not form a debut show at MSG.

As the band raced back to the stage, the lights came up with a pulsating electronic beat – Daft Punk’s “Around the World” – and then Phoenix’s countrymen Daft Punk took center stage (nod to Marv Albert, “the Garden is rocking!”) where Phoenix and Daft Punk played “Around the World” / ”Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger”.  Both bands then brought the show to a close with a leaping, extended “1901” that included a brief interlude for lead guitar Christian Mazzalai to play the signature note pattern from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” with corresponding light flashes.

Rather than segue from “Close Encounters” to an extended Daft Punk sample (given what followed, it would have made sense to play 30 seconds of “One More Time”), the spotlight hit Mars, perched in Section 104 to reprise the chorus from “1901” and then followed him as he crowd surfed back to the stage to conclude the song and the show.

Although the transitions from straightforward rock show to grander performance should have been smoother, Phoenix demonstrated a desire to add levels of showmanship necessary to become an arena mainstay.  At this point in the band’s development, one could not have hoped for more.

PJ Bezanson practices law in New York (by day and by night) but catches as many concerts as he can. He recently reviewed Of Montreal and Janelle Monae at Terminal 5 and Jay-Z and Eminem at Yankee Stadium.

Phoenix at Madison Square Garden

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4 Responses to "Phoenix Spreads Its Wings at MSG"

[…] Were you overwhelmed by the volume of music at last week’s CMJ Music Marathon? So were we. CMJ crams a lifetime of listening into less than a week, with more than 1,000 bands at 75 New York venues, from no-names at small clubs to indie superstars like Phoenix at Madison Square Garden. […]

[…] law in New York (by day and by night) but catches as many concerts as he can. He recently reviewed Phoenix at Madison Square Garden and  Of Montreal and Janelle Monae at Terminal […]

[…] and by night) but catches as many concerts as he can. He has reviewed many shows for FP, including Phoenix, Of Montreal and Janelle Monae, and Jay-Z and Eminem at Yankee […]

[…] and by night) but catches as many concerts as he can. He has reviewed many shows for FP, including Phoenix, Of Montreal and Janelle Monae, and […]

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