Tonight I went to a rock show. A real one. With guitars and strobe lights and an almost quasi-mosh pit and everything. There’s no denying the fact that this Grammy-winning four piece are a bona fide rock band – even if the precisions of the electronic elements of their recorded output might suggest otherwise. Tonight, Phoenix blasted through their set with the sort of effortless efficiency to be found only in the upper echelons of today’s most revered bands.
But first, a short set from one James Yuill. With the appearance of a bewildered IT consultant, his oversized specs suggest technician rather than musician - but this plays to his advantage. Spending the majority of the forty-minute set flanked on all sides by an impressive array of drum machines, mixing decks and laptops, Yuill proceeds to present his songwriting craft upon a foundation of his own brand of electronica – without doubt, The Postal Service acts as the most appropriate point of reference here. Guitar casually flung round his back, Yuill flickers from the electronic to the acoustic with a masterful ease. But it’s just not about the tripwire act - it’s Friday night, and the Roundhouse is full of people here to have fun. Yuill’s beats alone are enough to keep the room on his side.
During their headlining set, Phoenix continually strike as seasoned performers with an unceasing level of professionalism, whilst never loosing that romanticized sense of the French as aloof bohemians that the audience are so obviously drawn towards.
And that they are – some reports have suggested that many of the crowds at this year’s month long iTunes festival have been less than enthusiastic (to be expected of course, when tickets are given away free to any person willing to make the effort to push a few buttons on their favorite Apple product). But credit where credit’s due: iTunes wholly overshadows its competitors in every genre, and they’ve clearly made the effort to represent that here – with artists as diverse as The National, Tony Bennett, Mexican-born tenor Rolando Villazón, and of course, Foreigner.
But it’s safe to say Phoenix draw the best out of the crowd tonight. Moving my way through The Roundhouse (whose distinctive architecture and relatively recent refurbishment make it, for my money, the most aesthetically pleasing purpose built venue of its kind in London), there’s movement in every corner, evidence of the spirit and energy the band pour into the room – even if the gentleman laying down the moves at the back might do well to rethink his current repertoire.
With last year’s highly acclaimed Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix played in it’s entirety, it’s clear the set is going to be a crowd pleaser from the galloping motif that marks the start of opener “Lisztomania”. Later, Wolfgang centerpiece “Love Like A Sunset” is broken down to its very core components, (to an extent far outreaching that of its recorded equivalent) before being built up once more towards it’s sanguine close. Older favorites including “Long Distance Call” and “If I Ever Feel Better” also receive proper airings – and although to a more muted response, it’s a casual reminder that Phoenix didn’t just begin hatching songs of considerable quality last year.
Closing out the evening with “1901”, nonchalant singer Thomas Mars ventures to the front barrier to address his reverent crowd, burying his head into a blur of hair-rustling, back-patting hands.
After almost a decade spent toiling away in relative obscurity, Phoenix have now well and truly asserted themselves as one of France’s greatest musical exports, a group capable of executing a performance of unarguable quality at the drop of a hat, whilst loving every minute of it – something that tonight seems to radiate to the entire room. It’s Friday night, the spared ticket costs seem to have gone directly behind the bar, and Phoenix are nothing but runaway fun. And as long as everyone’s happy, that’s all they need to be.
Long Distance Call
Love Like A Sunset (Parts I and II)
Funky Squaredance (Part 1/2/3)
If I Ever Feel Better
(As part of the iTunes Festival)