Phoenix Burns Up the Pageant, Monday, August 9

by Ryan Wasoba

See more of Todd Owyoung's photos of Phoenix at the Pageant.
In one of a half dozen instances of audience acknowledgment, Phoenix vocalist Thomas Mars announced, "Growing up in Paris, we clapped like this." Mars commanded The Pageant to applaud to the rhythm of "[pause] clap, [pause] clap-clap" -- the complete inverse of the traditional American "[pause] clap-clap, [pause] clap" pattern (think "That Thing You Do"). The sold-out crowd obliged; it was just one example -- alongside the set list, light show and songs themselves -- of the Parisian group's propensity for embracing rock and pop clichés as springboards for the unexpected.

Phoenix introduced the element of surprise early in its set. A sample of the eerie instrumental "Love Like A Sunset Part I" faded in through the PA system while each of the six members -- the band's core four, plus touring drummer Thomas Hedlund and keyboardist Robin Coudert -- manned his individual station. The track was interrupted when Hedlund, backlit in dramatic white, launched the band into the hyper-shuffle fan favorite "Lisztomania." Crowd-facing strobe lights announced the song's first post-chorus rock-out, serving as the official "it's on" moment of the show.

The band's economical 85-minute set largely focused upon its Grammy-winning 2009 release Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix; a massive reproduction of the album cover's pink hydrogen bomb logo was the only constant prop on stage. The band treated tracks from Wolfgang with extreme care, neither parroting the recorded arrangements nor ignoring their essential elements. Rather, the already lively songs proved to be ever-evolving organisms; Phoenix consistently altered structures, inserted unexpected fills, accentuated tensions and glorified releases.

See more of Todd Owyoung's photos of Phoenix at the Pageant.

​Hedlund wasted no time segueing from aforementioned album opener "Lisztomania" into the polyrhythmic intro of "Lasso." A pair of tracks from Wolfgang predecessor It's Never Been Like That, "Consolation Prizes" and "Long Distance Call," followed, functioning as nods to the band's diehards and bathroom/beer breaks for its fairweather fans. An intentional commentary on this polarization or not, "Fences" became the mid-tempo party jam to unite both camps of Phoenix's fan base.

After raucous applause, Phoenix went Wizard Of Oz on The Pageant. Its monochrome
white-light-on-black-stage dynamic blossomed into technicolor with "Girlfriend," as bold swatches of basic Crayola 8-pack shades enveloped the band. Later, the sharp conclusion of "Armistice" cued a giant white curtain to fall between the band and audience. Acid-trip swirls of light trailed across the cloth, making ominous shadows of the band while it snuck into the previously suggested "Love Like A Sunset Part I." As the beat dropped, so did the curtain. The sextet (with Mars playing dead on his back) was illuminated only by horizontal red lines scaling upward like a poorly transmitted television channel. "Sunset"'s four-on-floor kick drum spurred on more crowd convulsions, and the red streaks glaring upon the ocean of jazz hands and spirit fingers resembled flames.

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