Thomas Mars would like for you to dance. But only if you want to.
"This is a dance one, if you guys don't mind," Mars said between songs, shaking his hair out of his eyes. Mop-topped and dapper in a baby blue button-down, Phoenix's frontman is earnest and puppy-dog sweet. (And he's got that swoon-inducing French accent, to boot.) But Thomas Mars can rock out. And his band? They can fucking kill it.
The French pop band has enjoyed a slew of press, play and props in the last year, scoring a Grammy, a Cadillac commercial, a hit album and heaps of screaming American fans.
This is because, musically speaking, Phoenix is a delightful date. They will pull out your chair, pay for your dinner, and they'll even kiss you goodnight (on the cheek, of course). They're funny; they're polite, and they're a damn good time. But don't be fooled. As proven by last night's smoking show at the Uptown, Phoenix isn't quite as goody-two-shoes as your mother thought they were.
The band kicked off their set with a droning, Air-like instrumental that sounded like the score to a Sci-Fi movie, complete with mysterious laser lighting. The sold-out (and conspicuously underage) crowd roared as each band member emerged, wrenching the excitement in the venue to a level of tangible tension. Phoenix exploded into a bouncy, astringently clean version of the cheeky "Lisztomania," punctuating each thudding drumbeat with seizure-inducing strobes.
Each song crescendoed into a fist-pumping chorus (as evidenced by the frantic wrist-wrangling of the dude next to me). Mars' friendly yelp was tempered by the band's crashing drums and droning synth lines in perfectly timed, spot-on renditions of tracks that recalled the snarling bass of Phoenix's Versailles peer, Daft Punk. Most strikingly, Phoenix still seemed a bit starstruck by their success. "Last time you were a crowd of like, 100. Now you are so many," yelped the exuberant Mars in a syrupy French accent. "I can't even see these people," he said, peering out into the dark for raised hands. "Can I get some house lights?" Mars exuded a humanistic charm, hopping into the crowd during the second or third number: a maneuver that would be repeated throughout the night.
The band plugged along happily -- if a tad monotonously -- until a mid-set break, where the stage lights dimmed. White lights outlined the shape of Phoenix's setup before breaking and expanding into revolving shapes (god damn, these guys had a cool light show). The moody interlude was an excellent segue into the band's next number. A schizophrenic switch found the formerly hyper band-boys taking a hipshot stance and channeling a confident, sexy intensity into a slinky melody that was a boasted a heap more swagger than Phoenix's usual poppy faire. It was only a few minutes until "Run Run Run" (a track off of Phoenix's 2004 release, Alphabetical) busted into a red-tinged, smoky grunge jam, sloshing the band's squeaky-clean aesthetic with a refreshing coat of grime. Whoa. Who are you, all of a sudden?
Mars' perfectly tuned voice became hoarse and anguished; formerly pristine guitars erupted into snarling dissonance; crisp drums became muddied and chaotic. It was a much-needed release to a night of barely-restrained ecstasy.
Of course, the next number found the band bandying back into impeccably executed pop -- and the number after that, and the number following that one. And guess what? It was excellent. It wasn't airbrushed. It wasn't canned. It was spontaneous and rapturous and completely mesmerizing. But who cared? Phoenix showed their roots, and they were sexy, raw, propulsive and driving. So, take your driving, heart-pounding anthem "Rome" (masterfully paired with electrifying strobes and buzzing bass); take your beautiful, excellently rendered electro-rock encore "1901" (punctuated by eerie submarine echoes and chill-inducing snarling synths); I don't care. I want that Phoenix back: hard-rocking, guitar-shredding Phoenix, rife with intensity and rigor.
But that's the heart-wrenching tease of the French pop band. Phoenix sent off Kansas City with two quick European-style kisses, and a cheeky wink. They won us over. And they knew it.
Locals Roman Numerals opened at 8PM on the dot, taking over for the unfortunately volcano-delayed openers Two Door Cinema Club. The guys' echoing new-wave space-rock sounded awesomely cavernous and ominous on the Uptown's stage, and for a crowd that held a surprising amount of first-time-concert-goers (Billy Smith asked them to raise their hands), the Numerals' melodic, electronica-tinged rock certainly held its own -- and the attention of a finicky crowd -- extremely well.
Long Distance Call
Love Like A Sunset
Run Run Run
Playground Love (Stripped)
Everything is Everything (Stripped)