Phoenix Take Brooklyn by Storm with New Album and Explosive Energy

This slideshow requires JavaScript.

French rockers mix older favorites with songs from ‘Bankrupt!’

Phoenix is a rock band from Versailles, France, consisting of Thomas Mars (vocals), Deck d’Arcy (Bass & Keyboards), Christian Mazzalai (Guitar) and Laurent Brancowitz (Guitar & Keyboards).

Phoenix have the most amazing drummer. His name is Thomas Hedlund, he’s not even an official member of the band, but he’s toured with them since at least the last album and he’s absolutely essential to their being such an electrifying live band. Dude is a monster behind the kit, attacking it with a ferocity you just don’t see in pop and his energy is Phoenix’s dynamo.

That energy was needed, a bit, yesterday (4/5) for the band’s surprise, free show at Music Hall of Williamsburg which was being taped by Sirius/XM to air on the satellite radio network next week. (The band are in town for an SNL appearance tonight.) The show started at 6 PM, which is not your normal Friday concert time (though I could certainly get used to having a show be over at 7:30) and folks maybe weren’t given enough time to prime. But by the time of mid-set appearance of “Girlfriend,” the crowd was ready to dance.

That said, Thomas Mars had no problem working the crowd. Dressed as usual in low-slung jeans and an untucked oxford, his preferred stage position was standing on top of his monitor, a move that never failed to elicit screams. He also jumped into the crowd for a couple songs, spent most of the new album’s mostly-instrumental title track (which was smooshed with “Love Like Sunset”) laying on the stage resting his head against that monitor, and finished the night atop the soundboard in the back of the room, thanking the crowd.  They came, performed and conquered many hearts!

The first sound the audience heard off Phoenix’s Bankrupt! was a deep, disquieting synth pulse that grew flecked with fairy dust, only to fade out just as it revved up. Last night at Brooklyn’s Music Hall of Williamsburg  the French dance rockers offered the intro to “Love Like A Sunset” before serving up the full version of that first song – a sprawling, expanding instrumental that imploded into a nebulous rumble that was resuscitated back into the final refrain of  Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix  cut with its teardrop guitar conclusion.

Current single “Entertainment” opened their MHOW set, which was rather heavy on the new album, still two weeks away from release. Bankrupt! is awash in glistening, ’80s style synths and I’m not sure if it has anything as immediately winning as “Lisztomania” or “Consolation Prizes” but a number of songs wedged into my brain last night: “The Real Thing,” with its “In the Air Tonight” backbeat; and the ELO-ish disco of “Trying to Be Cool” sound like singles to me. “SOS in Bel Air” is pretty catchy too. We got most of Bankrupt! — minus record’s two closing songs “Borgeois” and “Oblique City.” The band seemed to be having fun playing the new material, at least from the side of the stage I was on.  Guitarist Laurent Brancowitz was all smiles all night.

There were also established favorites too, banging out “Lasso,” “Lisztomania,” and “Long Distance Call” early in the set and finishing the night with “Armistice” and “1901” from Wolfgang Amedeus Phoenix and then an encore of “Countdown” and “Rome.” I woulda liked to have gotten “Consolation Prizes” and “Everything is Everything,” but those are quibbles. Really good show… and over before dark.

They have two other  upcoming NYC shows  at the  increasingly large:  The Apollo on May  (sold-out) and then Barclays Center on October 2 (tickets). And you can watch them tonight on SNL.  Look out for the drummer!

All in all, Friday was a great night. Seeing Phoenix play  in Brooklyn, where the Grammy Award winning band presented some of the songs from their upcoming  Bankrupt! was a much appreciated gift. This is no small thing, considering the French band is headlining Coachella and Lollapalooza this year, and that the last time they played in New York, it was at the sold-out Madison Square Garden.

The truth is, when we were invited to attend a “private/free show” and that the band will be “presenting new album,”  I expected a 5-song affair (max) that will only include new songs and maybe, with a bit of luck, one old hit. Shockingly, this was not at all the case on Friday; the band delighted the very enthusiastic audience with a full-force concert that lasted about an hour and a half, and included a perfectly combined mix of new tracks and well-known, beloved hits like “1901,” “Lasso” and “Lisztomania.”

Retiring backstage for a few minutes, Mars and guitarist Christian Mazzalai returned for a stunning, stripped-down “Countdown,” before the rest of the group joined them for a riotous rendition of “Rome” that crumbled and resurrected itself into the cherry blossom synths of “Entertainment.” The band played on as Mars hopped off the stage, plowed his way through the crowd and re-emerged atop the sound booth, where he offered heaps of thanks. As he rejoined his band, Phoenix brought the reprise to a suitably explosive finish marked by thundering down beats, giant leaps and the kind of applause that could have filled an arena.

Next week they headline Coachella. But an amped-up crowd is an amped-up crowd, and this crowd was suitably amped-up as Phoenix emerged to synths that rumbled their way into Bankrupt!‘s first single, “Entertainment.”

Altogether, Phoenix have all the “ingredients” they need to succeed – they are amazingly  innovative and creative,  young and talented,  have a charismatic leader, good management and, very important, lots of exposure. But keep the drummer! He’s a monster behind the kit.