Yes, the pictures are the proof, I was right up front for this show. The irony is, after seeing intimate shows by Vampire Weekend and MGMT in the balcony, Phoenix did a show whose visuals, not to mention grandiose music, often spilled beyond the stage.
However, standing up front at the last show of Phoenix’s world tour, at the intimate Miami Beach venue at least provided a behind-the-scenes feeling while still having the full effect of the music. At one point, during an instrumental, singer Thomas Mars laid down on the floor with the back of his head on a monitor, casually tapping his toes out of the view of most of the audience, except those right up front.
But before the main act hit the stage, the members of Wavves ambled on as the house lights dimmed only slightly with little fanfare and barely any affectation on stage. Singer/guitarist Nathan Williams even taped his own hand-written set list to the stage. The rough-edged post punk group from San Diego played spirited and raw music. They served as a stark contrast to the slick pop rock of Phoenix, with their fancy lights and perky guitar-work. It made me wonder whether Phoenix hired the Wavves just to make them look better. Not that the Wavves are a bad band. Their ragged rock certainly follows the tropes of the post punk aesthetic, and their first album, 2009’s Wavvves, actually features some odd musical experiments of drones and noise that they left off their more classic punk album, 2010’s King of the Beach.
On Wednesday night, they tore through their repertoire with consistent, raw and simple energy. There wasn’t much thrashing or posturing by the band members, just a self-absorbed energy for their music. I captured the full version of “Beach Demon,” from their first album on video below:
After a short wait, Phoenix took the stage in darkness, a mist of smoke and flashing lights. Guitarist Christian Mazzalai was practically right in front of me. His airy, bright guitar licks came out as effortless as they sound on record. His stared out into the audience with a distant kind of casual quality, as his hands did the magic, driving Phoenix’s unique in-offensive, peppy rock. The French group’s sound would have sounded comfortable on late 70s commercial rock radio, alongside late period Who and ELO, it’s so classic in its sound. It’s not even remotely edgy like the post-punk sound that came out of England during that time. Hence, the odd juxtaposition with Wavves. I only caught two videos of Phoenix during the show. Here is the first, “Armistice”:
Phoenix probably performed the most theatrical of the shows I have seen at the Fillmore, Miami Beach this month. They made the smart move to elevate the drum kits and additional keyboards and had an array of lights, often super-bright and blinding to those too close to the stage. At the end of “North,” they suddenly dropped a giant, thin white curtain over the stage, which also created a waft of the smell of fresh, clean linen, a perfect complement to the fresh, crisp sound of the band.
Behind the curtain, Phoenix slowly and dramatically began building up the epic and mostly instrumental “Love Like a Sunset,” projecting giant shadows of themselves through the flowing fabric. Here is the beginning of the video captured on someone’s cell phone camera (unfortunately, the amazing climax is cut short):
This wasn’t the only time Phoenix made a strong attempt to reach the audience beyond the stage. Toward the end of the set, the band did a couple of songs from beyond the stage– as far as they could go. The two brothers and guitarists, Christian and Branco Mazzalai climbed over the barrier and through some fans to stand on a platform at the side of the stage. Meanwhile, bassist Deck d’Arcy took a small Yamaha keyboard and sat on a monitor right in from of me. Mars took his position on the barrier near the other side of the stage. They performed one of their mellower tunes, as well as a French classic from the sixties, “La Fille aux Cheveux Clairs.” I did not make a video, but I was able to snap some stills.
It reminded me of Coldplay’s efforts to reach the lawn seats at the Cruzan Amphitheater in West Palm Beach last year, when the band ran out beyond all the assigned seats to take to a small stage and play a couple of acoustic songs. Phoenix really made an effort to reach out to as many attendees in the theater as possible, like no other show I have seen at the Fillmore this month.
Their finale was their pièce de résistance. At the end of “1901,” crew members made a fire line to get a glowing orange cable out to the back of the pit, where Mars would show up to sing reprise the end of the song. The crowd held him above their heads, and he crowd surfed his way back to the stage. At one point he tossed his mic out into the crowd. Here’s a video from the back that captured the action from a distance:
After audience members carry him back to the stage, and the band ends their song, Mars begins grabbing fans and yanking them up, inviting everyone to storm the stage. As he helped pull fans up, people also ran for it. Mars actually pulled on one of my friends’ arm, but he passed on the invitation.
It was a scary sight to see a swarm of indie rockers who were not necessarily in their best shape climbing the chest-high barrier to step over a wide chasm to the stage. Some would later regret it. I saw one girl take a nasty fall between the barrier and the stage. I thought I had just seen someone get crippled, but thankfully she got up. I think my wife may have saved a life, by telling another girl not to do it, telling her “you’re too fat.”
Those who made it to the stage smiled, jumped around, hugged band members, took pictures and many even trembled in a mix of fear and delight. I haven’t found YouTube video of the chaos after the music, but here is a closer (and louder) view of Mars crowd surfing right by someone’s camera, as he is carried back to the stage:
At the beginning of the other song I caught on video, “Rome,” Mars declares this as the last show of their tour (it also seems to look sharper than the first video I took, though the screaming around me is more intense):
It was a great show and nice to finally see a band who could push the limitations of the stage at the Fillmore in Miami Beach. As Phoenix heads off to the studio for their follow-up to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, maybe they will come back at a bigger venue, where they belong.
(Copyright 2010 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)