(an early june setlist)
Last night I had the chance to catch Phoenix at the Wiltern Theater in Los Angeles for the closing night of their US tour. The band seemed to be in full stride, promoting their 4th studio album Wolfgang Amadeus with fiery renditions of about half the tracks on the record. And while their most recent effort is quite pop-driven, it seems to have a bit more edge than their previous record, It's Never Been Like That, leaving room for experimentation in their normally tight and polished songs.
Kicking off the show with a technically perfect Lizstomania, it wasn't until the band really got into their set that they found their niche. Renditions of Funky Squaredance 1-3, Run Run Run, and Love Like a Sunset left little to be desired, as the band played with tempo, did some start and stop, and experimented much more than I thought they would. Between those moments, and a few poppy others (namely Too Young, and their closing encore 1901), the show was nothing short of spectacular from a musical standpoint. Even their most popular hit, If I Ever Feel Better, was funked out a little bit, as the band added a sort of epic rock-opera ending to the jam. Mind you, Thomas Mars, their front man, was completely out of tune with the song when it started, but he found his groove, and got the entire place on their feet.
Looking at their setlists from the tour so far, the band doesn't really mix things up that much. They tend to play the same 20 songs at each venue, with a gem here and there. Obviously, as a pop band, that's your obligation, but I would have liked to have seen a few more early tracks and a willingness to embrace the songs the band likes for themselves. After all, I can imagine a stop in LA is pretty big for this band. LA is a musically snobby town, ergo the people that were there probably knew every song they've recorded as well as I did. Why not take some time and do a few lesser known tracks from United or Alphabetical? Or hell, you've been covering Air's Playground Love, give me one of those!
My only true criticism would have to be their light show. Now, I had never seen Phoenix before, but they've put out 4 fantastic records so far, plus a live effort. The point is: they've toured before. Probably 10 or 20 times I am guessing. With that in mind, you'd think the band would have an amazing light show to go along with their music. Not so. It almost looked like the Wiltern staff lighting technician sat in for the night and just sort of hit buttons as he went. Mind you, that's a little harsh- clearly the lights were engineered to fit with their music, but it all felt very sterile. Maybe a paint-by-numbers lighting kit would have been a better description. It's frustrating though, coming off the heels of seeing Phish a few weeks back: their lights are considered a 5th member of the band. But look at the small outfits of the world. When I saw Cut Copy, the lighting show was phenomenal. It covered up for the fact that they really only have about 10 songs they can do live before they get to be too redundant and overbearing. Phoenix clearly sits above these guys popularity-wise, and have released 3 more records at this point. Why then haven't they sprung for a decent lighting guy? I can only hope when I see them again (and yes, I absolutely will see them again, and can only recommend them to you as well) they'll have some sort of luminary show to accompany the music.
DOWNLOAD: Phoenix- 1901 [remix by Felipe Musica]
Set List: 6/28/09
(this is only partial, though rumors of Thomas Mars being sick before the show kept the set quite short anyway. It clocked in at 1:15)
Love Like a Sunset
Run Run Run
Twenty-one One Zero
It's Never Been Like That
If I Ever Feel Better