It seems like Phoenix has been riding the wave of success brought about from 2009’s Grammy winning “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” for a while now. And why not? For these ten tracks have received endless praise and have been continuously infiltrating pop culture in ways that most artists should be envious of. It was also this album that pushed the band to international headlining status.
So in the midst of the New York’s CMJ Music Marathon; a week long onslaught of mostly breaking bands at all of the various venues throughout the city; a band like Phoenix may seem to carry a little more familiarity than most others. This is still a band that has been touring off the same album for almost 2 years though – how can they up the ante this time around? For starters; bringing up and coming bands such as Wavves and the Dirty Projectors to grace the stage of Madison Square Garden, well that did the trick. The real answer to that question came towards the end of the show when Phoenix, completely unexpectedly, brought out fellow French exports Daft Punk.
Where as the thrill of many of the other shows during CMJ is seeing bands that you may have little or no knowledge of; this show you clearly knew the reason why you were there. It was unfortunate for Wavves that much of Madison Square Garden was empty for they’re opening set. These San Diegans have been producing a decent amount of buzz fusing together their own brand of surf and noise pop. This is music that seems much better suited for music festivals and intimate clubs though. All that you could hear reverberating through the Garden at the time was fuzz. After playing a brief 25 minute set that concluded with their most recent title track King of the Beach, the stage was cleared to make room for the Dirty Projectors.
In this day and age where a new band seems to arise every 5 minutes, the Dirty Projectors do a great job in distinguishing themselves with their unique sound. The band is composed of six members, three male and three female, and their songs usually contain layered harmonies interrupted by sharp guitar riffs and danceable rhythms. The Brooklyn band was much better received by the growing crowd, with highlights including Cannibal Resource and Useful Chamber, both off of their highly praised 2009 album Bitte Orca.
After another brief break; the lights went out and a cloud of smoke appeared in front of the stage as the opening notes of Lisztomania swirled around the arena. Everybody was on their feet from that point forth; singing what they interpreted the lyrics to be. Phoenix continued busting out tracks from Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, following up with Lasso, Girlfriend, and Fences. All of these songs were performed in a very straight forward and upbeat manner with very minimalistic lighting and stage props.
The moment this concert really separated itself from other Phoenix performances came about midway through the set during the band’s epic two part Love Like A Sunset. Once again the lights went dark for the slow build up; and then slowly, the ceiling of the “World’s Most Famous Arena” became a glowing red orb pulsating with the building rhythm. After the massive build up that signals the transition from Part 1 to Part 2 of the song, this orb began slowly opening revealing stars swirling overhead; perfectly juxtaposed with the lyrics “Here comes, a visible illusion.”
The ceiling remained aglow as Phoenix plowed through the remainder of the set which included high-energy renditions of Run, Run, Run, Rally, and Rome, (say that ten times over). The set was closed with the vocoder laden Funky Squaredance as if it were an allusion of the guests who were soon to come on.
Shortly after, lead singer Thomas Mars emerged in the middle of the floor along with bandmate Laurent Brancowitz on acoustic guitar for a few songs. The crowd quickly swelled around them as they went through Love For Granted and another French cover song. When they made it back on stage; the band picked up where they left off with If I Ever Feel Better. Then, with yet another explosion of light; two shadowy figures emerged on stage with robot-like silhouettes. Moments later, these figures were revealed on the screen to be none other than Daft Punk! [you can watch a video of their performance at the bottom of this article]
Instantly everybody’s phones and cameras were out as you heard the vocoder come back in during the opening phrases of Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger. Sharp triangles and other illuminated geometric stage props began glowing, perhaps a nod to the upcoming film Tron, scored completely by Daft Punk. The duo remained on stage as the song segued into an electronically infused version of 1901. Witnessing the exchange between Daft Punk’s scratches and blips, laced with the contagious guitar riffs was quite the site. 1901 slowly morphed into the theme song from “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” with lights beaming upwards making the Garden appear as if it were a spaceship coming back to Earth.
For most of the people in attendance it took a much longer time to actually come back down to Earth and realize what they had just seen. I’m still in awe myself and can’t wait to revisit some of the moments of this concert that are undoubtedly scattered across YouTube already. This was truly a special, special night at the Garden. Viva la France!
Word and Photos from Jesse Zryb