Post-2000 indie bands, and I count most of my musical existence from that point onward, have bequeathed us a certain disdain for anything too obvious, songwriters intellectualize everything and then release a cryptic love song. Phoenix, on the other hand, are in the business of delivering sensations that, more often that not, get you heart racing like it does in the first days of flirting with a work colleague. You want to wear something nice for a change, girls get their hair done and before you know it, you're daydreaming about running in the rain in Paris while the love of your life chases you into a steamy wine bar. And it doesn't seem at all odd that you would even find yourself wishing for such a pathetic thing.
They didn't play Fences - that alone ought to be the only sentence in this review, as a sort of punishment, and if it weren't for everything else they played - masterfully - it would be. Fences is a great tune. But let's say it's a forgivable lapse when the rest of the performance is punctuated by covers of Playground Love with Nicolas Godin himself on stage and A Cappella versions of Sick for the Big Sun.
I think I forgive them.
Phoenix aren't exactly your everyday grandiose stadium band but at the Brixton Academy on Wednesday they delivered and incredible show: entertaining, clever and leaving very little to chance, Thomas Mars and team sang about love as if they were going through the day's to-do list - "I'll marry you on Tuesday", he goes, like it's nothing. Disarming, that's the word.
Entertainment kicks off the night, it's the first single from their new album Bankrupt!, a synth-heavy concoction, fit for a Californian hotel lounge at times; others for an 80's hen party. The new work blends very trendy techniques such as loud keyboard, half-tempo double clapping and Casablancas-like distortion with tunes hovering R&B and House. After listening to this album, it won't come as a surprise to you that Daft Punk are old friends of the band and Casablancas himself was a guest singer and producer in the latter highly praised Random Access Memories. It's all in the annoyingly talented family.
Crafted to a filigree of detail in studio, Phoenix's music loses some of its layers on stage and that's one of the great joys of watching densely produced bands, the cathartic release they get from playing their songs in a less analytic environment washes over everyone.
The room is warming up and we're all prime to jump around. Lasso and Liztomania, two heavy-weight crowd pleasers from their nearly perfect 2009's "Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix" follow suit. One couldn't help but admiring the courage - what would they grab the audience with from this point on?
Oh well well well well well well until you know me well", starts "Girlfriend", another chunk of gooey and ironic love from "Amadeus" as the album is tenderly referred to. Mars's echoey vocals are like home-made jam, you just know you're safe now.
"Run Run Run" is next, what a tune straight from their 2004 "Alphabetical". The opening guitar is very similar to the cadence of a mellow-er Radiohead and it falls like sugar cubes each time Mars goes "fallin', fallin', fallin'"
By the way people are dancing, it's like we've all just been teleported to the sleek lounge of a Monaco casino in the 80s. With what looks like synthetic whistles, Trying to be Cool comes on - "I'm just trying to be cool. And it's all because of you" is a good a pick-up line for a room full of loved-up sarcastic fans as you'll ever gonna get.
The first M83 borrowed tunes of Chloroform kick in and again we're all letting our arms swing there along our torso while we close our eyes and actually nothing else is of much importance.
"Thank you very much Brixton."
They come back to gothic organs. The whole floor trembles and then Mars slips into his negligé and sings Sick for the Big Sun with no safety net, barely any guitar and even the room is silence like we're at the Opera or a classic concert venue. A room full of rock fans listening to a lead singer and not attempting to sing as well? Blimey.
Rome finishes it and I leave the room with the sensation of having been showed around the world through the blurred windows of an old friend's car. A friend I was always secretively more than friends with.