French music is actually pretty brilliant at the moment. From worldwide acts such as Daft Punk and M83, to Justice, Yelle and La Femme, Breakbot and Air, to name a few. The French are taking over and I’m perfectly okay with that. The only thing I am still on the fence about is French hip hop, but we won’t go into that right now. One of the biggest exports is Phoenix, an indie outfit with a touch of French class and a distinctive sound which brought the house down on Brixton academy on Wednesday evening.
I remember exactly how I was introduced to Phoenix; it was back when Paramore covered Long Distance Call for a French TV show and it has been a love affair ever since. I saw them play a brief set at Reading Festival in 2010, so the announcement of a couple of dates at Brixton’s O2 Academy were too good an opportunity to pass up, so I sorted some last minute tickets and braved the 2014 tube strike.
While Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix won serious acclaim in 2009 with the consecutive success’ of Lisztomania and 1901, Bankrupt! boasts some equally impressive anthems. One of which is Entertainment, the tune which opens both the 2013 album and the show; a vibrant track with a slight oriental influence, which sets the tone for an upbeat, rambunctious and promising evening. They head straight into fan-favourites Lasso, Lisztomania and Long Distance Call consecutively, and while it’s always risky to play the big cards early, in this case it gets the front half of the crowd fired up in such a way it could have threatened a Phoenix-inspired lisztomania! Too Young follows and plays to a simpler, funkier beat, pleasing fans of Untitled in 2000.
Phoenix have a unique ability to make each song feel like it’s your favourite, before producing another you hadn’t even considered. Images of the Paris flash intermittently on the screen in the background, while rainbow lights dance on the stage where the Arc de Triomphe does not. It’s a meticulous display, and the crowd have no trouble keeping up; singing along word for word to the ever uplifting “die and succeed/ I say it out loud but you just don’t care” of Girlfriend, all the way through to the pulsating “put your name on my list S.O.S in Bel Air!“ Sunskrupt!, an entirely musical interlude is a central feature of the show, combining Love Like A Sunset from Wolfgang and the title track from Bankrupt! They only ever perform it live, and the steady build of guitars and bubbling synth, lights and sound bring the house down, and continues so do so as the energy rises and falls with the whole room jumping to 1901.
I never assumed Thomas Mars was a particularly charismatic frontman until now, although it is hard to look at him and not instantly hear those wistful, cryptic vocals which make up so much of Phoenix’s spirit. It’s also easy to forget that much of the bands lyrical content is actually fairly sad and bleak. No one has time to think about that, however, as Mars crawls his way over the crowd to stand upright, clutching at the hands of fans below, right in the middle of the sold-out academy to perform a languid cover of Air’s Playground Love, accompanied by Air’s very own Nicolas Godin on piano. It is a lovely, toned down touch to a thoroughly enjoyable evening. Mars crawls/rolls his way back on stage to finish the night off right with bittersweet tones of Rome and a reprisal of Entertainment, bringing the show full circle to a close.
Whether it was the couple of beers I had enjoyed beforehand, or the sheer tour de force of the performance, but it was all over far too quickly for my taste. Seventy-five minutes didn’t feel like nearly enough, but in that time they flew through an impressive setlist of fan favourites and intricate medleys. It was so good, in fact, that I am tempted to hunt down a ticket to see them when they return on the academy next Wednesday, but then I would only be stealing the experience away from someone else, and I wouldn’t want that.