Music Hall of Williamsburg
Thursday, June 18
For some, this Phoenix show is probably over before it even really starts, as the five guys in the band emerge from the Music Hall of Williamsburg’s blue-lit backstage shortly after midnight and launch right into “Lisztomania,” their loose-limbed monster summer jam turned YouTubed token of Williamsburg self-regard. It’s clean and soaring and a bit businesslike, really, and now the song’s ended already, and we’re relieved of our own personal fear that some pack of kids were going to clear space in the middle of the floor and start doing coordinated Brat Pack dances. Not so–although a pleasant-seeming girl will later twice gain the stage to dance sensibly in front of first the drummer and then Thomas Mars, the front man, before being dragged off by an increasingly exasperated bouncer. But she seemed sweet, basically.
People clearly really want to be part of the Phoenix experience. They are that band that, even in New York, get showered in cheers between songs, and are otherwise extended a kind of rapt, full-on attention that excludes the usual cellphone checking/mass flirting/heavy drinking crowd behavior that is the hallmark of your average show at the MHOW. There’s a bubble of exhilarating calm coming off the stage as Phoenix run through a bunch of back catalogue, Mars bellowing nonsense bon mots like “Right hand in a trench coat!” with the utmost sincerity, the crowd buying every nonlinear word of it.
And though there is the inevitable triumphant “1901” encore, which finishes with Mars somewhere deep in the crowd, ringed by kids and cameras, the band dragging out that last “Falling, falling, falling, falling” bit for a good five minutes, it’s an earlier moment that sticks with you. As on Phoenix’s sparkling new record, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, “Love Like a Sunset” comes right in the middle of the set, breaking up a cavalcade of streamlined pop with what starts as a kind of noodling thicket of random noise–noise that gradually takes form without much of the delicacy it has on the record, but with a new, substantial physical force. There is, eventually, a growing, chirping crescendo, the band picking up speed and volume and ultimately diving headlong into an enormous bass rumble, and then silence, and then the song’s second half, which is slightly vocoded and doubled and massive and really just fucking wonderful, sweet and loud and epic all at the same time. Even Mars looks a little bit stunned when they finish it.