Phoenix at Barclays Center
October 2, 2013
On an early October evening that felt much more like summer than fall, the four man band from Versailles named Phoenix rolled into Brooklyn's upscale Barclays Center. An eclectic crowd milled around outside, soaking in the last rays of sunshine of the day, a demographic comprised of young and mature, parents and teens, native New Yorkers and fans sporting delightful accents, awash in neon light from the venue's large sign.
The enormous arena sports an unusually grand and eclectic food court, if one can even call it that since that term evokes the image of fast food joints in a mall and does this culinary lineup no justice. So alluring was the smorgasbord of delicacies that many people were stationed on stools in the sleek dining area enjoying dinner and missed out on a dynamic opening set courtesy of the indie English band The Vaccines. Justin Hayward-Young, Freddie Cowan and crew tore up the stage as if they were the headliners, thrilling the small albeit extremely enthusiastic crowd with favorites like "Blow it Up" and "Melody Calling." Their call and response anthem "Wreckin' Bar" evoked the crowd to chant "Ra Ra Ra" right back at them, elevating the energy level in the room. After a hearty 40 minute set, the air was palpable with excitement for the main attraction.
The fifth stop and less than a week into this leg of the U.S. tour to support the release of Bankrupt! (Glassnote, 2013) the band's fifth album which hit stores in April, Phoenix came prepared to play. After engaging with fans for over an hour earlier in the day on a Reddit Ask Me Anything, the stylish 30-somethings hit the stage just after 9:15. With Thomas Mars on vocals, Deck d'Arcy on keyboards and bass, brothers Christian Mazzalai and Laurent Brancowitz with guitar duties (plus keyboards for Brancowitz), and tour support from Thomas Hedlund, a maniac on the drums and Robin Courdert on keyboards/ percussion, the stage was literally set for a memorable night of music. This tour kicked off in March in Vancouver, snaked through the west coast of the US, continued overseas in Germany and France, and included some key festival dates here in the States. The first tour in two years, Phoenix showed no signs of tour fatigue even this late into the journey .
Classical music and a red backlit stage stood in the darkness as the band assumed their spots, the first notes of "Entertainment" erupting into an explosion of sound and billows of smoke from machines strategically placed on the stage. Mars, perpetually in motion whether on stage or out in the crowd, cut a slight figure in a dark blue button down, sleeves rolled up, golden hair glinting under the spotlights. His eager, boyish good looks and agility make him the consummate front man as he bounced from the drum kit in the back to perch above the crowd, leaning over to become part of the action, not apart from it. The banter between songs was kept to a minimum but the interaction with the crowd was overwhelming. Rare cuts and obscure songs did not make the playlist that night. Instead, Phoenix brought out the hits, the crowd favorites and thrilled the audience who spent more of the evening on their feet dancing than merely watching. "Lisztomania," " Long Distance Call," " Fences" and "Rally" brought wild applause. At one point, a blast of fake $100 bills shot out of cannons on either side of the stage, nearly reaching the upper levels with the shower of confetti that fluttered downward.
Raucous applause greeted "The Real Thing," "Too Young/ Girlfriend," and tracks from the new CD including "Run Run Run," "Trying to Be Cool / Drakkar Noir," and "Chloroform." D'Arcy seamlessly handled both bass guitar and keyboards, sharing a portion of the stage with Mazzalai whose flair and theatrics behind the guitar are a joy to watch. Brancowitz beamed with emotion as he moved effortlessly between guitar and keyboards. The pure energy of Phoenix live is a wonder to behold.
The video monitors behind displayed bars of color in hypnotic patterns as well as cinematic footage, depending upon the tune. During the instrumental "Love Like a Sunset, Part II," Mars laid down on the stage and gazed up at the video monitor of a burning red light that slowly rose over the drummer.
The barrier between the crowd and the stage which serves as a pit for photographers and a station for security to keep the boundaries between audience and performers was noticeably narrower than usual. The reason? Mars notoriously surfs the crowd and sings from among the audience. This night was no exception. By the end of "Armistice" he was off into the crowd, crooning with his red microphone cord trailing behind him and security hovering behind him, at times holding the back of his pants for stability that the lead singer didn't appear to require. Fearless, Mars broke into "1901" from the audience and encouraged them to "not be shy" and sing along with the chorus.