It was certainly an odd way to lead up to Valentine’s Day or to end a celebration of Galentine’s Day. Monica, the lead singer of the headliner PHOX, even commented on the mismatch of the impending holiday and their often sadness-drenched lyrics. The many couples in the audience didn’t seem to mind though, many cuddling up and swaying slowly along with the music as the concert unfolded. There was a sweetness to the evening that easily rivaled any chocolate to be received the next day.
Field Report was the opening band on this evening, kicking the night off in its bittersweet delight. The electronic folk trio entered onstage amidst fog and started right into the title track off their most recent album, Marigolden. Lead singer Christopher Porterfield charmed the audience with his banter between songs, and his enviable warm-looking hipster horse sweater. Though most of the audience seemed unfamiliar with Field Report’s music, they were warmly received. Singing of doubt, nostalgia, and misguided love with their soaring harmonies and sweeping sonic landscapes, the band moved from songs acoustic in focus to those more electronic and rock oriented. Closing with their anthem-like “Home (Leave the Lights On)”, they left the audience settled into their shoes.
The mostly filled, wood-helmed, almost barn house like building of Union Transfer buzzed in excitement as bright lights spelling out PHOX were unveiled onstage announcing the bands imminent appearance. Finally prancing onto the stage, they began at a calm with their signature self-described nap pop, building into one of the stronger performances of the night “The Satyr and the Faun”. Prefacing the song as one about love interest that isn’t shared, Monica deftly communicated the pain that amounts in changing course and deciding to pursue someone new.
Unrealized love was a common thread throughout many of their songs, yet the lyrics were balanced against trumpets and flutes that contribute to the PHOX brand of whimsy of almost fairytale quality. In “Kingfisher”, particularly emblematic of this contrast, Monica claims, “Reverie is my goddamn right”.
The band was remarkably playful throughout it all, from their jokes with one another to an impromptu photo exchange. During which, Monica first handed a camera she had artfully tucked inside her boot to a man leaning on the front of the stage and asked him to take a photo of the band, then asked to raise the house lights so that the audience could take photos of them taking a photo of us. Their youth and excitement burst through the moment, matching if not exceeding that of the audience. Their sense of play was most on display though when they took the risk of abandoning their posts, gathering around a single condenser microphone with acoustic guitars in hand for the majority of their set, in order to return to their roots, to how the conception of their sound was born in their living room. Doing so allowed their amazingly smooth group blend to center stage. Though as always, Monica shone and commanded the room with her honeyed voice.
After a special sidetrack of bringing a member of a fellow Wisconsin band and his adorable family onstage to sing “You Are My Sunshine”, PHOX launched into some of their more well-recognized hits: “Evil”, “Slow Motion” and “Blue and White”. As long-held songs in their repertoire, they were discerningly reflective emotionally and felt more fully realized than some of the others. Similarly, the encore was chalk full of highlights, including Monica singing “Calico man” on the ukulele and a cover of “Not For All the Love of the World” with band mate Jason. Closing on hopeful note with “Espeon”, the last lines rung out into the night, wrapping the audience in a blanket of warmth that lingered as they exited to the bitter cold: “In nearly a decade / I didn’t feel inclined to say / There’s no-one more brilliant than you”.
By Nina Leonard
OurVinyl | Contributor