The announcement sent panic waves throughout the indie rockers of San Francisco: Phoenix at The Independent on April Fool’s Day. And this was not a hoax. What it was, though, was an impossible ticket. A representative of The Independent was quoted in the paper as saying the show sold out “immediately.” It sent everyone I know scrambling for tickets, wanting to be at what was officially the welcome back party for Steve Masters of Live 105, and would also serve as the unofficial kickoff to Fauxchella.
Mac DeMarco opened, and well, my mother always taught me that if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all. So, there’s that. I’ll be brief. I don’t understand why this guy is playing anywhere for anyone. Here’s some advice for you, Mac. If your band covers “Blackbird,” one of the greatest songs ever written, in jokey novelty fashion with out-of-tune screachy vocals provided by your sideways-hat-wearing bass player, you do not belong on the same stage as Phoenix. Or anyone else for that matter. (Sorry, mom.)
After a 40-minute drinking binge to rid my brain of its musical stench, the lights went down, bringing Phoenix out to the stage. Six of them were packed onto the tiny stage of The Independent, with a keyboard player hidden behind amplifiers, barely visible, and the four core members of the band along the front of the stage, with hardly any room to move. They launched right into the first single from their upcoming album Bankrupt, “Entertainment,” and off they went. This was quickly followed by Lisztomania, which I thought for sure would bring the house down, what with the always amazing drumming of Thomas Hedlund (my favorite band member, though he’s not technically a band member), but this wasn’t the case. Odd.
It was then I realized that of the 500-or-so in attendance, there were 50 of them who spent their entire weekend saying “Oh my god I can’t wait to see Phoenix on Monday!” and 450 who were saying “I can’t wait to tell my friends I’m seeing Phoenix on Monday.” I was hoping the hardcore fans would whip the whole crowd into a frenzy, but even the early placement of “Lasso” didn’t make it happen. While there were many, including some extremely excited people on the raised side of the Indy, who danced and shouted the entire night, it seemed that most of the audience was sitting in rapt silence.
Perhaps I am misinterpreting, though, because Phoenix did play nine new songs, so maybe everyone was just quietly paying attention like they were at the listening party for their favorite band. After “Love Like a Sunset” was played in an almost-mashup with “Bankrupt!” (as shown on the setlist, “Sunskrupt!”), the crowd energy seemed to get a boost. And then it built throughout the closing kick, so by the time “1901” was being played, we may as well have been in an arena. This was more like it!
The encore we were treated to was not the one on the setlist, and it truly did feel like a treat. Thomas Mars came out on stage and crouched down in the center, accompanied only by guitarist Christian Mazzalai, and they played “Countdown” from Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, and then a cover of Air’s “Playground Love” from the movie and album The Virgin Suicides. This clearly felt like a shout out to Sofia Coppola, wife of Phoenix’s singer who was watching from a private balcony above. It was like a little bonus romance tucked into our giant rock show.
Finally, the band returned to end with “Rome,” which segued back into “Entertainment” as Mars went out into the audience, only to be carried back to the stage on the shoulders of his fans. It’s a move he pulls in larger venues, and here it felt like he was celebrating a little house party among friends and family.
I was asked how this show was, and I said “good but not transformative.” Man, I can be jaded sometimes. Writing about it now, and looking at the fact that I heard the entirety of one of my favorite albums of the last several years, and almost the complete tracklisting of what’s likely to be one of my favorite albums of the next several years, this was a pretty spectacular night. I’m glad the ticket scrambling paid off, and next time, I hope the whole crowd is as excited to see Phoenix as they are to say they saw them. Phoenix deserves the former every time.
All photos (excluding the setlist) by Jenz