The other day we drove up to Orlando from Miami for a live show by Phoenix. Though not as impressed by their latest album Bankrupt!, expectations for a great live show ran high. They had already impressed during their first show in South Florida a few years back (Phoenix pack arena-sized show into Fillmore theater; Oct. 29, 2010). This show, at the House of Blues, just like the Fillmore show, would sell out. This night’s performance, though not as stagey as the Miami Beach show, still impressed. The band breezed through its repertoire with its usual spunk and warmth. It even felt rather brief.

It began with a short set by Chicago ’90s grunge survivors Urge Overkill. There was a time when these guys would headline these venues about 20 years back. It was interesting to watch these guys live. With rather ebullient ease, they played their hits from back in the day, like “Positive Bleeding,” “Sister Havana” and their cover of “Girl, You’ll Be a Woman Soon” made famous for its presence in Pulp Fiction. There was also a new tune. But, beyond five or six seemingly impressed attendees, the interest in Urge Overkill seemed polite if any at all. The group’s music is still rather uneventful barroom rock that chugs along on rudimentary hooks. One guy paid more attention to his video game than the performance (see image below).

Nash Kato and videogame

Phoenix would go on at about 9:45 at night with the first single off the new album kicking off the lively set. The sound immediately revealed that this concert was going to sound amazing, from the quality of the performance to the clarity of the sonics. Even though the set list was weighted by lots of new material, the guys brought so much life to their music with their presence (as last time, dual drummers, too). It was a zippy set. The band mixed together several songs as medleys. At one point singer Thomas Mars shared his joy at being in such an intimate venue after all of the band’s earlier festival dates. Here’s one of the band’s biggest ever hits thanks to a car commercial:

They did something interesting with the epic “Love Like a Sunset,” mixing it with the title track of the new album:

The crowd gave them back lots of energy with lots of raised hands throughout the set, and quite literally supported Mars during the band’s closing number, “Rome” and a reprise of soaring section of “Entertainment.” Between the two songs, he appeared at the back of the pit and crowd-surfed his way to the stage, a classic Mars move he pulls at the end of Phoenix’s shows.


Long Distance Call
The Real Thing
S.O.S. in Bel Air
Sunskrupt! (A combination of “Love Like a Sunset” and “Bankrupt!”)
Too Young / Girlfriend
Trying to Be Cool / Drakkar Noir / Chloroform


Countdown (Stripped-Down Version)
Playground Love (Air cover)
Entertainment (Reprise)

The group has dates scheduled for the US and Europe scheduled through the end of November. See what’s available here (that’s a hotlink).

Hans Morgenstern

(Copyright 2013 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Summing up “Rocktober”

November 2, 2010

After a too long dry spell of visiting bands in South Florida, October was packed with out-of-town acts I wanted to see live. I even missed some, like Matt and Kim, Massive Attack and Thievery Corporation due to the overlap of shows. I even couldn’t drag myself out to see Caribou because I was too dang tired from the week before! It was a first for South Florida, as far as I was concerned. Hopefully we’ll have more of these kind of months.

I did a lot of comparing of the shows in my resulting live reviews, so let me sum up some of the standards, here.

Best performance

Hands down went to LCD Soundsystem. I have never seen such a large band of musicians gel so strong on stage, while keeping a groove with such consistency. One song after another infected the system. It was a transcendental experience of music. I was buzzing for days afterward on the natural high of their sounds, and I am dying to see them again. I had high expectations based on their albums and they surpassed them. Heck, they are among the best live bands I have seen in my life.

Best show

Anther band with high expectations going in: the Flaming Lips. I had only seen them live once before, a few years ago, but these guys were able to put on a show that demanded a follow-up. That called for a trip to Orlando, as previous plans would mean we would miss their geographically closer weekend show in Boca Raton. It was well worth the drive and hotel stay.

With their confetti canons and costumed friends dancing at the side of the stage, and lots of other surprises, the show was an unrelenting experience. Beyond that, singer Wayne Coyne showed a masterful connection with the audience. He was on stage even during the opening act, Le Butcherettes, just on the sidelines, cheering them on and waving at the audience. Throughout, he was in constant dialogue with the fans, be it an opening speech about the hazards of their bright lights or in the deeper moments of the music. There was no band with that much flash and that much connection this month or that I have probably ever experienced.

Most surprising opening act

I had never heard Beach House until they opened for Vampire Weekend. Of all the opening acts I caught this month, Beach House proved the most absorbing. Their glowing pyramids on stage proved them the showiest of the bunch. Even with the terrible sound that made Victoria Legrand’s lyrics mostly unintelligible, their dreamy sounds shown through. It was the only opening band who compelled me to buy a record after the show.

Biggest let down

Vampire Weekend directly followed Beach House but left me cold. I had been regretting missing their stop at the Fillmore during their support of their last album, but now I am over it. They went through the motions of connecting with the audience, but it was all a bunch of clichéd arena antics.

They certainly did their music justice, but the energy seemed canned. Out of all the shows, this is the one that most felt like a cabaret show.

Best effort transcending Fillmore’s stage

Most of these shows took place at Miami Beach’s Fillmore. None projected themselves beyond the stage better than Phoenix. They used screens and a light show meant for the theater and not just on stage, and singer Thomas Mars threw himself into the crowd more than once. He was the only singer I saw at the Fillmore this month do that, so props for him on that effort.

It was also the friendliest crowd (sure, Lips fans are friendly, but they are mostly high). They may have stormed the stage, but only after Mars started yanking people up and inviting them to do so. Otherwise, there was no moshing or even pushing throughout the set, and I was right up front. I was even able to have some nice conversations with the strangers around me about music. A roadie handed two of the teenage girls I was talking with after-show passes because, he said, they smiled at him.

Most challenging

Yes, the band with poppy hits like “Kids” and “Electric Feel” proved the most challenging. As a music fan born of an appreciation for Bowie and art rock, MGMT exceeded my expectations live at the Miami Beach Fillmore, as I heard stories of drug-fueled, slack performances in the past. For all I know those were false because these guys certainly did justice to their music, which is probably the most complex and challenging music of all of the bands I saw over the course of October.

I also read grumblings about the set list in a major magazine review, and the fact that the band did their hits early and lost steam from then on (I forgot which magazine this was, but I’ll save them the embarrassment). To me, one of the most inspired actions by the band was to diverge from their own set list, as described thanks to a photographer’s report here. The highlight was their 10-minute version of “The Handshake” mixed with Magazine’s coda for “Burst” followed by their 12-minute early-period Pink Floyd/Beach Boys prog-rock epic “Siberian Breaks.” I caught both on video (though “Siberian Breaks” was cut halfway through due to space limits on my SD chip):

During these two moments, I never saw so many walkouts of people who were clearly there to hear the hits and leave. Sure, they got to hear the seventies-inspired disco cut “Electric Feel,” but they would miss “Kids,” which capped this near half-hour prog-rock rock odyssey. I hope MGMT keep searching the prog in their blood.

(Copyright 2010 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)

Yes, the pictures are the proof, I was right up front for this show. The irony is, after seeing intimate shows by Vampire Weekend and MGMT in the balcony,  Phoenix did a show whose visuals, not to mention grandiose music, often spilled beyond the stage.

However, standing up front at the last show of Phoenix’s world tour, at the intimate Miami Beach venue at least provided a behind-the-scenes feeling while still having the full effect of the music. At one point, during an instrumental, singer Thomas Mars laid down on the floor with the back of his head on a monitor, casually tapping his toes out of the view of most of the audience, except those right up front.

But before the main act hit the stage, the members of Wavves ambled on as the house lights dimmed only slightly with little fanfare and barely any affectation on stage. Singer/guitarist Nathan Williams even taped his own hand-written set list to the stage. The rough-edged post punk group from San Diego played spirited and raw music. They served as a stark contrast to the slick pop rock of Phoenix, with their fancy lights and perky guitar-work. It made me wonder whether Phoenix hired the Wavves just to make them look better. Not that the Wavves are a bad band. Their ragged rock certainly follows the tropes of the post punk aesthetic, and their first album, 2009’s Wavvves, actually features some odd musical experiments of drones and noise that they left off their more classic punk album, 2010’s King of the Beach.

On Wednesday night, they tore through their repertoire with consistent, raw and simple energy. There wasn’t much thrashing or posturing by the band members, just a self-absorbed energy for their music. I captured the full version of “Beach Demon,” from their first album on video below:

After a short wait, Phoenix took the stage in darkness, a mist of smoke and flashing lights. Guitarist Christian Mazzalai was practically right in front of me. His airy, bright guitar licks came out as effortless as they sound on record. His stared out into the audience with a distant kind of casual quality, as his hands did the magic, driving Phoenix’s unique in-offensive, peppy rock. The French group’s sound would have sounded comfortable on late 70s commercial rock radio, alongside late period Who and ELO, it’s so classic in its sound. It’s not even remotely edgy like the post-punk sound that came out of England during that time. Hence, the odd juxtaposition with Wavves. I only caught two videos of Phoenix during the show. Here is the first, “Armistice”:

Phoenix probably performed the most theatrical of the shows I have seen at the Fillmore, Miami Beach this month. They made the smart move to elevate the drum kits and additional keyboards and had an array of lights, often super-bright and blinding to those too close to the stage. At the end of “North,” they suddenly dropped a giant, thin white curtain over the stage, which also created a waft of the smell of fresh, clean linen, a perfect complement to the fresh, crisp sound of the band.

Behind the curtain, Phoenix slowly and dramatically began building up the epic and mostly instrumental “Love Like a Sunset,” projecting giant shadows of themselves through the flowing fabric. Here is the beginning of the video captured on someone’s cell phone camera (unfortunately, the amazing climax is cut short):

This wasn’t the only time Phoenix made a strong attempt to reach the audience beyond the stage. Toward the end of the set, the band did a couple of songs from beyond the stage– as far as they could go. The two brothers and guitarists, Christian and Branco Mazzalai climbed over the barrier and through some fans to stand on a platform at the side of the stage. Meanwhile, bassist Deck d’Arcy took a small Yamaha keyboard and sat on a monitor right in from of me. Mars took his position on the barrier near the other side of the stage. They performed one of their mellower tunes, as well as a French classic from the sixties, “La Fille aux Cheveux Clairs.” I did not make a video, but I was able to snap some stills.

It reminded me of Coldplay’s efforts to reach the lawn seats at the Cruzan Amphitheater in West Palm Beach last year, when the band ran out beyond all the assigned seats to take to a small stage and play a couple of acoustic songs. Phoenix really made an effort to reach out to as many attendees in the theater as possible, like no other show I have seen at the Fillmore this month.

Their finale was their pièce de résistance. At the end of “1901,” crew members made a fire line to get a glowing orange cable out to the back of the pit, where Mars would show up to sing reprise the end of the song. The crowd held him above their heads, and he crowd surfed his way back to the stage. At one point he tossed his mic out into the crowd. Here’s a video from the back that captured the action from a distance:

After audience members carry him back to the stage, and the band ends their song, Mars begins grabbing fans and yanking them up, inviting everyone to storm the stage. As he helped pull fans up, people also ran for it. Mars actually pulled on one of my friends’ arm, but he passed on the invitation.

It was a scary sight to see a swarm of indie rockers who were not necessarily in their best shape climbing the chest-high barrier to step over a wide chasm to the stage. Some would later regret it. I saw one girl take a nasty fall between the barrier and the stage. I thought I had just seen someone get crippled, but thankfully she got up. I think my wife may have saved a life, by telling another girl not to do it, telling her “you’re too fat.”

Those who made it to the stage smiled, jumped around, hugged band members, took pictures and many even trembled in a mix of fear and delight. I haven’t found YouTube video of the chaos after the music, but here is a closer (and louder) view of Mars crowd surfing right by someone’s camera, as he is carried back to the stage:

At the beginning of the other song I caught on video, “Rome,” Mars declares this as the last show of their tour (it also seems to look sharper than the first video I took, though the screaming around me is more intense):

It was a great show and nice to finally see a band who could push the limitations of the stage at the Fillmore in Miami Beach. As Phoenix heads off to the studio for their follow-up to Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, maybe they will come back at a bigger venue, where they belong.

(Copyright 2010 by Hans Morgenstern. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed without permission.)