When you’re given the chance to see French alt/indie rock band Phoenix, you typically don’t turn it down. When they’re playing at the same time as The Cure, however, something’s gotta give. That was the situation that befell me last week at Lollapalooza, and while The Cure easily secured a spot on my “best concerts ever attended” list, I had heard from the multiple patrons in Grant Park that night that Phoenix’s set was quite spectacular as well, and I indeed had a hankering for a live performance of “1901” or “The Real Thing.”
As it turns out, the decision to see The Cure was in my favor, as I got a second chance to see Phoenix shortly after returning from Chicago, this time at Club Nokia at LA Live. What’s better: the entire night was devoted to benefiting the Grammy Foundation’s Grammy In The Schools music education programs.
All photos by Bryan Honig
I filed into the sold-out show at Club Nokia with eagerness to see Phoenix, but I couldn’t tell you how delighted I was by the couple of openers, starting off with NY-based now LA-local singer/songwriter LP, otherwise known as Laura Pergolizzi, who was clad in a Dylanesque suit and pants that will be familiar to anyone who has seen the music video to her breakthrough hit, “Into The Wild.”
The image belied her intensity, for when her vocals broke through and her pretty whistling lofted, you could clearly see that she was anything but soft-spoken or closed-off. Her supporting band also spruced her up a bit, and even though she only performed a 30-minute set, she still managed to charm the crowd.
Next up was Grouplove, whom I’d really recognized by name only until they played “Ways To Go.” I suppose it was sacrilege because everyone in Club Nokia was singing and dancing along to every song of theirs. Cue the moment I embarrassingly go, “Ohhhh right. Grouplove.”
Either way, Grouplove was hugely, hugely enjoyable. Though I personally felt a few of their songs were a bit amateurish, there was no denying the mass appeal of their sound, and the set featured a few songs that I thought were actually quite outstanding, including the time-signature shifting rocker “Borderlines and Aliens” (a song from their new album, Spreading Rumors, slated for release next month) and the candy-coated, crowd-pleasing “Tongue Tied.”
I was impressed by the band’s charisma and their pure joy at performing these tracks, and their comfortable presence on stage made it seem as if they’d been playing sold-out shows for years. The sentiment was certainly shared throughout the club; Grouplove gathered everyone into the performance, clapping and head-nodding. Their sound blasted through the speakers, and their pop constructions were tightly-knit and well-executed. When the band announced that they were from LA, I was happy to know I was witnessing a local act with the potential to be superstars.
But let’s face it. I was at Club Nokia to see Phoenix. I may have been slightly spoiled in watching their recorded Lollapalooza performance when I arrived back in LA and their setlist at the Club Nokia show was fairly note-for-note, but actually being there in the midst of it all (and much closer than I probably would have been had I seen them in Chicago) was unbelievably overwhelming.
Thomas Mars and crew entered to French classical music and France’s colors just to, you know, make sure you knew they were French. But then they opened with “Entertainment,” the lead single from the recently released Bankrupt!, and pretty much blew the club a new hole. Lights were ablazin’, drums were pummeling, guitars were searing, and dancing was a must. I was pretty sure the 3rd Level floor of Club Nokia was going to surrender under the pressure.
The energy. THE ENERGY. Phoenix plowed through their first few numbers (including favorites from Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix) with instrumental zest, keeping in line with their poppy studio recording counterparts but with a stronger attention to the spontaneity that a live performance needs. They were aggressive but obviously having fun, especially vocalist Thomas Mars, who constantly wrapped the mic chord around himself and at one point laid down on the floor, either contemplating just how far they’ve come or realizing how much more fun they could squeeze out of the crowd before the show ended (as if they were going to let that happen…).
I’d find it hard to believe that they didn’t make any Phoenix fan in the room that night’s dreams come true, as they played quite of a few of their catchiest tracks from past albums, including “Rally” and “Run Run Run,” but they knew how to play to their audience with the most recent hits as well, including the aforementioned breakthrough track “1901” and the recent single “Trying To Be Cool.” It probably didn’t help much that Thomas Mars crowd surfed and asked fans to come up on stage during the encore track, “If I Ever Feel Better.”
So in case you were wondering, yes, Phoenix was a blast and definitely worth seeing live if you get the chance. Each band who performed that night also courteously thanked the Grammy Foundation for letting them contribute to the benefit, which couldn’t have been made possible without the efforts of the fans who came out to support it — and the foundation choosing some pretty stunning acts to begin with.
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