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Phoenix: 23 September 2009 - Aragon Ballroom, Chicago

Words and Pictures by Kirstie Shanley

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.

Of course, first timers in attendance wonder whether or not Phoenix is capable of pulling off their songs in such a huge space and how these songs would sound live. With their reliance on beats combined with their use of guitar and bass, the band brought a strong aesthetic presence as well as an auditory one. Aside from a couple spooky song intros that eventually formed into the pop gems the crowd knew and loved so well, the music was far from floating and airy. Without a sense of lingering, most of the time, the music came off just as forceful as it was pleasing and the songs seized the space--like a physical entity instead of an abstract one.

One certainly couldn’t ignore the visual presence the band provided either, with ample amounts of backlighting, smoke, and strobe lights. Their often-silhouetted forms may have proved difficult to capture in photos but succeeded in effect. Opening the evening like their record, “Lisztomania," what some feel is their biggest hit, quickly established a strong precedent for the rest of the set.

Enchanting lead singer Thomas Mars proved modest and extremely humble, thanking the audience profusely for supporting them. At one point towards the end of the set, the lights fell on him, vividly illuminating him like a bright star. Physically, the band’s presentation on stage didn’t make its actual size seem too large, allowing them a good projection of their sound.

Unsurprisingly, there was an emphasis on their most recent songs over the course of their 75 minute set. Highlights included, “Fences,” “Rome,” “1901,” and “Girlfriend.” However, “Long Distance Cal,l” from their 2006 release It’s Never Been Like That, proved a real treat. One of their first hits, “Too Young,” from 2000’s United album, was as catchy as it was nostalgic.

The pinnacle of the night was a nod to fellow French band Air, with their encore cover of “Playground Love.” It felt the most sentimental against many of their own, faster-paced songs.

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