Martin Cizmar's review of the sold-out Phoenix show Monday night has raised some eyebrows, making a few good points about the current state of the French band. A lot of Martin's opinions come from someone who isn't the biggest fan of the band, and that is perfectly fine. I, on the other hand, am a big Phoenix fan, even though their last album is a disappointment to me. Allow me to present another side to this argument...
First of all, I must comment on the comparisons to Daft Punk. This is not simply because both acts are French, but the fact that both are French explains how Phoenix's lead guitarist Laurent Brancowitz once played in a band with Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo -- better known to the world as Daft Punk. Yes, Bangalter and Homem-Christo honed their talents in a plain ol' band before donning helmets and becoming one of electronic music's biggest acts.
In the interest of full disclosure, I did not attend last night's concert. I knew Martin would handle those duties, since Phoenix is such a big name act. There is no way I would pay that much money to see a show at the Marquee -- regardless of who the act is. People who try to deny the lackluster and underwhelming feeling of being in the large Tempe venue are kidding themselves. Couple that with the sheer mass of bodies that come with a sold-out show and had to just be awful in there last night.
Now, as I said, I am a fan of Phoenix. I heard one of their first singles, "Too Young" sometime in 2002 and I knew I just had to listen to more from the band. I have seen them play twice: once in 2004 in Portland, Oregon at the Doug Fir after the release of their second album Alphabetical and again in 2006 at Coachella right around the time of their third full-length It's Never Been Like That.
It's Never Been Like That is my favorite Phoenix album, even though Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is their biggest commercial success. It's Never is just a completely solid indie rock album the whole way through -- there is no filler, there are no boring tracks to skip and even the token instrumental track, "North," is upbeat and keeps a interesting tempo. Watching them play the majority of that album at Coachella was a moment I will never forget. They played an exhilarating set that was heavy with It's Never but still played the better songs from Alphabetical and United, their first album. Their showmanship was superb and their outfits were rather, ahem, dapper. They gave fans of theirs exactly what they expected and exactly what they deserved that day.
Fast-forward three years and one mega-successful album later, and Phoenix the band has finally played Phoenix the city -- well, at least an adjoining city, Tempe. The band just won a Grammy for best alternative rock album, beating out a strong offering from the Yeah Yeah Yeahs -- but who honestly cares about Grammy winners these days, especially in the category of alternative rock? Phoenix's songs are in Cadillac commercials and their music is inescapable these days. The band put in their time and are now finally able to reap the rewards the earned through toiling through the early part of the previous decade.
I am to assume last night's set was heavy with songs from Wolfgang, and I was very disappointed when I first heard the album -- mainly because their previous album was stellar and they made their fans wait 3 years for what I felt to be a subpar effort, save 3 songs. The band wore t-shirts and not their usual suits. It may have been a less than spectacular show, but the band is still capable of something very meaningful.
This all comes from an unabashed fan of Phoenix. A part of me didn't want to go to last night's show because I want to remember seeing them live at Coachella, and I don't need a cramped, forced set at that venue to ruin that image for me. I know it's totally unfair and way too idealistic, but my passion for their music makes me want to forever keep those memories of Coachella in 2006 clean.
I write this because it's always nice to have a second opinion, and because I have been a fan of Phoenix for quite some time now -- I've put in my time listening to their music and seen a few of their live shows. I know what that band is capable of, and I know Monday night was probably not their finest hour. You may knock me all you want for calling myself a fan and not making it to their show last night, I know how that particular sentiment seems. It's a shame for Valley fans of Phoenix to have witnessed last night's show, but they can take solace in the fact that the band is capable of something fantastic. And, as Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix has proved, the band certainly isn't going away anytime soon.