Live Review

Phoenix w/ Two Door Cinema Club, Constitution Hall, Washington DC

What a difference a year makes.

It seems like America is perpetually behind Britain (and Europe) when it comes to finding the hottest indie band du jour. Such is the case with Paris dance rockers Phoenix, who were largely unheard of in the States until the band’s 2009 opus ‘Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix’ won a Grammy for Best Alternative Album. What a difference a year makes. The band’s return to the Nation’s Capital to perform to a sold-out crowd at one of the largest indoor venues in the Washington DC area was a triumphant one: last summer they played at hole-in-the-wall Rock and Roll Hotel.

Along for the ride on this tour are their American (Glassnote Records) labelmates Two Door Cinema Club, playing their first gigs ever in North America. Providing support for a beloved act is an unenviable task, especially in a cavernous venue such as Constitution Hall when you see that less than half the seats are filled at the time for your opening set. The young, fresh-faced trio seem blissfully unaware of this, pounding out punchy numbers from their recently released album ‘Tourist History’ with gusto.

Clearly, the audience that is present is quickly won over by the band’s best efforts, as evidenced by the fans getting out of their seats, bopping along to the infectious beats. I heard later that the merch table rapidly ran out of their CDs, very auspicious for a band who just debuted on Billboard’s Heatseekers Albums Chart at #10.

And then there’s Phoenix. They are proof that Parisians know how to rock and throw a good party, complete with a fit-inducing light show that might make Muse weep. If lights with the potential to blind or cause motion sickness aren’t your thing, you’d best avoid this show when it stops in your town. Phoenix’s live performance demonstrates the band’s unexpected versatility with lo-fi, slower numbers like ‘Playground Love’ and more rock and less dancey tracks like ‘Everything is Everything’ from their 2004 album ‘Alphabetical’ and ‘Lasso’ from ‘Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix’.

But what the crowd really came for were the hits with dance sensibility like ‘Lisztomania’ (named after the term given to female manic reaction in response to the performances of arguably the world’s first classical pop star, Franz Liszt) and songs that sound like they were custom made for workout tapes like ‘Girlfriend’.

Phoenix must be acutely aware of the problems of lack of connection and distance between them on stage and their fans before them: during the encore, lead vocalist Thomas Mars climbs up into the upper tier of the theatre to serenade fans in disbelief that their hero is standing right in front of them. Later, under the cover of darkness, Mars resurfaces, this time on the floor while his band rock out with ‘1901’ to the crowd’s delight. Enthused grown men pump their fists in the air while teenage girls bump and grind to the rhythms. Enthusiastic are the punters who desire to follow Mars back onstage; many prove successful, turning the stage into an impromptu block party. On this night, no ‘fences in a row’ are present, but one wonders what the always stoic Constitution Hall staff made of all of this.

Tags: Phoenix, Features

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