And I thought Americans hated the French. On April 22, when French pop-indie band Phoenix headlined at the Avalon with Scottish band Dogs Die in Hot Cars, this was hardly the case.
It was hard to believe in the packed Hollywood venue, filled with screaming American fans, that we once entertained the notion of ‘freedom fries.’
However it becomes quite clear how a band like Phoenix could gain so much international fame, specifically in the notoriously picky American music scene, once they are heard live, where their infectiously catchy melodies played over mainstream hip-hop beats truly come to life.
In terms of image, these guys are stylish, maintaining a stage presence that was collected and cool, but energetic at the right moments. Never before had I so badly wanted to be small, skinny and French.
With little radio support, the French band has really developed a strong underground following in the States with their two albums ‘Untied’ (2000) and ‘Alphabetical’ (2004). The most American-based exposure the band achieved was when their song ‘Too Young’ was featured on the soundtrack of ‘Lost in Translation’ in 2003. The strength of the band’s popular support, in California at least, was unavoidable at the Avalon, packing fans from all ages and walks of life.
I knew this was a special show for two main reasons. When I looked around before the show started, as everyone was getting anxious, there were several different types of music fans around me, something I rarely experience at Los Angeles shows, where music fans become more polarized every day. I also felt different because usually at venues with a bar, I feel my under-21-ness so strongly, wishing I could enjoy my favorite bands with something stiff. Never before has that feeling passed into an empty afterthought so quickly as when Phoenix began their set.
A third unaccredited specialness to this show tended to my movie-fan side as I spent the entire show next to actress Erika Christensen, whom I’ve always loved in ‘Traffic’ and wish I saw in more movies.
Despite some technical difficulties with the first couple of songs, which was only disappointing because they were personal favorites (‘Too Young’ and ‘Run, Run, Run’), the band played a seemingly flawless set, going above and beyond any expectations that I had previously entertained.
The lead singer’s voice, marked by a smoothness and a cool sincerity, translates beautifully into a live setting. He was joined by five other very talented musicians who played the band’s specific brand of pop seamlessly.
Their drummer for this tour, whose name I did not catch, was especially impressive, playing with a confidence that matched the upbeat coolness of the music while also not letting opportunities pass to show his technical mastery of his instrument.
For this band especially, a really smart drummer is so important. Most of their beats are pretty simple, centered around their driven, dancey quality, but they still need to be played with strict precision. It is also important, however, to take advantage of opportunities for frills and breakdowns, because what and where the drummer chooses to display his rhythmic superiority has the potential to sound so much more interesting and powerful when contrasted to the rest of the simpler parts of the set. This drummer did exactly that, often leaving me speechless.
Phoenix played for an hour, the whole of which was pure enjoyment, running through all the favorites as well as some new tunes, and even coming out at the end for a two-song encore, one of which was a beautiful acoustic rendition of their popular single off their new album, ‘Everything is Everything.’
My favorite song of the evening was actually ‘I’m An Actor,’ which was surprising for me because I always considered the song one of the weaker tracks on the album ‘Alphabetical.’ There was something about this song, which only translates in the live set, that truly captured me. It just seemed so big and powerful, drawing me in more and more as the song progressed.
It may have been the theatrics that made this song stand out, when in the middle of the song the band stopped suddenly, leaving only the drummer playing a click on the high hat as the lead singer stood silently in a spotlight in his characteristic stance: head high, hands behind his back. The band teased the audience, displaying their strict control over the American crowd as they waited silently for a good minute, which is a lifetime on stage, as everyone filled the gap with much earned screams and applause.
This is my conclusion: First, if you are a fan, you really have to go see this band the next time they are in town, which is unfortunately so infrequent, because they will not disappoint. Second, if you don’t even know who these guys are, first find out, then go see them because I can’t really imagine anyone disliking these guys, live at least. Third, if you have heard this band, and you don’t like them, go see them anyway because I think you will be converted. If you are not, then in the words of Ron Burgundy, ‘I will fight you.’