The first time I saw Phoenix live was during a snowstorm in December 2009 at the now defunct Clutch Cargo’s club in Pontiac, Mich.
Thomas Mars and his three bandmates – Deck d’Arcy, Laurent Brancowitz and Christian Mazzalai – captivated the sold-out crowd with songs from their 2009 smash, “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix,” and officially established their reputation as a must-see live act.
They also reigned supreme as a coveted festival act with memorable appearances at Bonnaroo, Coachella and Lollapalooza in 2009 and 2010.
By 2013, they had played the Eastern Michigan University Convocation Center for their “Bankrupt!” tour, which didn’t feel like the right venue for the French indie pop band. Their sound and stage presence is much better suited for mid-size theater (2,000 or less) rather than a mini arena (9,500).
Last week, Phoenix recaptured the same magic of the “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” tour at The Fillmore in Detroit on Oct. 11 while promoting their latest album, “Ti Amo.”
I have to admit Phoenix’s performance was by far one of their best I’ve seen in years. Here are the five best parts I took away from last week’s show:
1. Phoenix’s LED floor display and background mirror – A majestic LED floor display showcases a stunning array of visuals, including beautiful waterfalls, wildlife shots and the band’s name lit up in multi-colored lights against a background mirror. This clever illusion made fans think the visuals were coming from behind the band rather than below them. It was hard not to focus on the display and mirror as Phoenix played their set.
2. The Phoenix merch vending machine – Before the show started, I headed out to buy Phoenix merch in The Fillmore lobby. As I was waiting in line up the white sprawling staircase, I noticed an out-of-place vending machine labeled as “Super Mercato Phoenix” located right next to the usual merch table. Fans swiped their credit cards to buy Phoenix patches, hats, balloons and autographed cassettes. I snatched some patches and two tapes – autographed copies of a “Heatwave” cassingle and the Phoenix “Ti Amo Diaries.” Concert merch shopping has never been so much fun!
3. “J-Boy” opens Phoenix’s 20-song setlist – “J-Boy” is my favorite Phoenix song since the band released “1901” and “Lisztomania” from “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.” The song kicks off a catchy pop-infused feel the band so easily captured during their Fillmore performance. It’s true sugary pop that gets stuck in your ears and mind with mesmerizing hooks and beats. The whole “Ti Amo” album is one huge pop dance party that should be played on repeat.
4. Phoenix origins – “If I Ever Feel Better/Funky Squaredance” – The band played a medley of two songs from their first album, “United,” for fans, who quickly jumped in to sing the chorus. “United” is the only album from the band’s catalog that I don’t have. It was cool to hear part of the first two songs that kicked off the band’s career 17 years ago.
5. Reliving Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix – When Phoenix released their 2009 hit “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” Grammy-winning album, I was just getting started with indie music and concerts. Hearing that album will always remind me of an era filled with musical self-discovery and family.
My brother, Steve, was the one who first introduced me to Phoenix and that album. While hearing “Lasso,” “Lisztomania,” “Girlfriend,” “Rome” and “1901” during The Fillmore show, I was able to travel back in time to my indie music Padawan days and return to the present as an older and wiser music and concertgoing Jedi Master. (Yeah, that’s corny as hell, but that’s part of who I am.)
What’s your favorite part of the Phoenix “Ti Amo” tour or any Phoenix tour for that matter? I’d like to know what stands out most for you about their music and live performances.