French alt rockers Phoenix played an excellent set in Central Park on Friday night. The sold out crowd enjoyed Passion Pit, but went bonkers for Phoenix, though perhaps the high school kids were just drunker for the second act. Either way, Phoenix brought gobs of energy, with some interesting twists on their familiar material, and enough of a light/smoke show to entertain the (tone) deaf. Despite touring so much, the band seemed to have fun too, with Thomas Mars climbing speakers and lunging deep into the crowd. I highly recommend seeing them live.
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For the last decade the city of Chicago, and the Chicago Cultural Center, has devoted a week to showcasing an array of international music. Appropriately titled the Chicago World Music Festival, the event attracts musicians from around the world to local Chicago venues, spreading diverse and unique music across the city. This year 55 performances were featured at 21 venues citywide.
On September 23rd I attended one of the performances at Martyr’s, a bar on Chicago’s near-north side. On the bill was Rahim Alhaj of Iraq/USA, and Hanggai from China/Mongolia/UK. I had no idea what to expect.
I arrived at Martyr’s halfway through Alhaj’s set. The bar’s main floor, which is usually open, was lined with tables, chairs, and stools and every seat was occupied as people began to congregate around the perimeter of the bar. The room was dimly lit with candles on every table; the audience was absolutely silent, completely mesmerized by Alhaj’s playing.
As Alhaj performed original and traditional compositions on the oud, a fretless pear-shaped string instrument, he told stories of music and exile in Iraq. His strumming was completely beautiful and full of feeling. In between songs Alhaj interacted with the crowd, asking them to keep a clapping beat and follow specific rhythms which he accompanied.
After a quick stage change it was Hanggai’s turn. Decked out in colorful robes, Hanggai blew the crowd away almost immediately. Consisting of five members from Beijing, the band played a mixture of traditional Chinese instruments and western rock instruments: electric guitar, electric bass, acoustic guitar, a standard drum kit, a tobshurr (a strummed two-stringed lute), and a horse-hair fiddle called a morin khuur. The band’s repertoire was inspired by native Mongolian folk traditions and rock music, resulting in reinterpreted traditionals from their indigenous grasslands. Songs covered themes of ancient traditions, especially the importance of protecting them, “playing, singing and drinking,” and the humor of love. Performed compositions included: “Drinking Song,” “Borulai Lullaby,” and “My Banjo and I.”
Topping off Hanggai’s beautiful melodies was a combination of crooning and hoomei, a traditional throat-singing technique. The music was truly transcendent, encompassing the power to carry the listener to a different place. In between songs the band frequently expressed their gratitude and appreciation for being a part of the festival and the excitement of performing and visting America for the first time.
Their set ended with a standing, cheering and whistling ovation from the audience. The crowd’s calls were answered with an encore with solo throat singing accompanied by the morin khuur. The full band eventually returned to stage, which prompted several audience members to get out of their seats, dance and cheer Hanggai on.
On Wednesday night at Santos Party House, Portland’s Starfucker and Deelay Ceelay had the know-how to bring it hard. Through swells of energy and artificial smoke-clouds, they churned out three hours of electro-pop that kept each work-weary body in motion. With that distinctly odd feeling of concurrent skepticism and enticement, the two members of Deelay Ceelay took the stage and sampled everything from reggaeton to polka to T.I.’s “Whatever You Like,” all whilst a synched visual projection performed as a psychedelic backdrop to their performance. Markedly fierce tempo changes, clever, bassy transitions, and ample cowbell proved their art to be the perfect compliment to that of Starfucker. It was a jam session I felt inspired to be a part of.
French four-piece Phoenix are on the rise. Take the fact that the band was originally booked to play Chicago’s 2,500 person capacity Riviera Theater, but it sold out so quickly that the show was then moved to the larger Aragon Ballroom, with it’s 4,500 person capacity, and easily sold out as well. One reason for this surge in popularity is certainly due to the fact that their newest release, 2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, is filled to the brim with pop tunes guaranteed to make any cynic get up and dance. While their three previous releases captured some of this spirit their fourth accomplishes it more fully, as if the band has been steadily evolving and reached a high point in its continuum.
Moby’s two hour show at the Theater of Living Arts in Philly combined songs from his newest reflection, Wait for Me and his groundbreaking album Play with a smattering of others into a finely-tuned uplifting performance. Though the show was not sold out, Moby, with his backing band and opener Kelli Scarr, channeled tons of energy and shared his heart to the enjoyment of those in attendance.