“Like a riot, like a riot oh!” so went the crowd singing along with the silver-tongued French phenomenon known as Phoenix. Barely three songs into their set and the Montreal kids were already chanting on their feet as Thomas Mars held out the microphone to the audience. Fresh off the release of their latest album, Ti Amo, Phoenix has been touring the world and made a stop in La Belle Province to wish us well and of course, leave many bisous from the mess to the masses.
Starting out with a slow burn, opening troupe ‘Lo Moon’ from Los Angeles struck you as almost a revival act for the 80s simmering male solo artists such as Peter Gabriel or Phil Collins. Backed by a band filled out with keyboard and synth drums in addition to the typical line up of 2 guitars, drum and bass, the retro feel was only enhanced by the restrained style in which lead vocalist Matt Lowell would lead out his voice. The effect was both calm and menacing, like a leopard prowling through the purple lights of the M Telus. It might be sheer talent, or perhaps just the #11 Saku Koivu Habs T-shirt he was wearing, but the Montrealers sounded fairly enamoured and appreciative of this fresh new sound.
Both bassist Christiana Baker and Lowell alternated instruments through their set, swapping the sound of synth for electric bass or guitar. Solo guitarist Sam Stewart gave us some crushing melodies amped up with a set of effects pedals, and the final outro of Lowell’s ghostly voice echoing in the halls brought the set to a very nice closing touch. He commented that the first time he arrived in Montreal was for a Pewee hockey tournament – hopefully Lo Moon will return once again to this city without Matt needing to make the spring AAA league cut.
After some extended preparation, the black curtain dropped and Phoenix was revealed to us! Twice! There was a giant mirror above the entire stage, held at a 45 degree angle. The effect combined with a floor which was, in fact, a giant LCD screen. Net result: Phoenix sang us to from a universe of endless horizons and color-scapes, with each band member suspended without a shadow in a world of their VFX creations. This stage set up was really unique and quite charming for a lot of reasons. At about mid-set, lead man Thomas Mar lay down on his back by thanks to the mirror appeared perching on a giant roman column, twenty feet above the band.
The most striking visual – and ultimately magical – effect of the reflection was the superimposition of the band over an image of the galaxy about mid-way though the set. Mars lay back again, and the musicians were slowly engulfed in graphics of pink clouds swirling across the stage. As they cleared, slowly stars emerged, fanning out until it seemed as though we were watching Phoenix perform suspended within the night sky. Truly a powerful impression and really unique in all the concert setups I’ve seen through the years.
Now, on to the other bit about Phoenix – their performance. Starting out with J-Boy, the crowd switched into fifth gear almost immediately as the 2nd song, Lasso, started up. Combined with a deep spotlight, guitar and bass talents took turns being showcased to the roar of the crowd. Deck d’Arcy bobbed along on bass and keyboards, while guitarists Laurent Brancowitz and Christian Mazzalai had their share of quick solos under the glare of the beam. It must be noted that the stage presence of these members of Phoenix can only be described as a kind of awkward-foppish nerdy-guitar-chique. No one was sticking their tongues out or really even fully raising their guitar above their shoulders. Stylish, restrained, and really endearing – not exactly wild – with the lone exception of Mars’ crowd hijinks.
The majority of songs performed were basically an even split between albums Wolfgang and Ti Amo. As the night progressed it became really apparent that almost anything off their third album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, would be a hit. It may be partly due to the audience reception of the new album, but perhaps also just the fact the Ti Amo is more of a chill, lingering and slow style of music. Contrasted to the frenetic emotional breakdowns of such songs like Girlfriend, Armstice and Rome, the classic Wolfgang would probably always rile up the crowd – with doubtless, as we knew all along, the penultimate of 1901 sending us off with shivers. Shivers, until we all observe lead singer Thomas disappear into the crowd through the finale of ‘Ti Amo Di Piu.’
He did it at Osheaga. Now it seems like Thomas Mars just really likes to surf, swim, walk and pretty much clamber any way possible through Montreal crowds. Posed halfway through the human mass at M Telus, with two spotlights pinning him in place, he simply flashes his goofy smile at the crowd and motions us ‘up!’ ‘up!’ to jump and dance while he counts down to surf back to the stage. Phoenix left it all out there, and Thomas might have left his wallet somewhere on the floor, but either way it was an amazing show – truly a sight with a sound that still does the magic trick.
Trying to Be Cool / Drakkar Noir
Long Distance Call
If I Ever Feel Better / Funky Squaredance
Fio Di Latte
Ti Amo Di Piu
Review – David Loach
Photos – Arianne Bergeron