Reviewing a live show is tough, even tougher than records. Basically, I imagine there were 17,375 Phoenix fans at the Hollywood Bowl last Saturday, and they probably all had a great time and walked away thinking, OMGZ! I mean, who am I to argue or say otherwise?
I’m not anti-Phoenix. I checked out their music prior to Coachella earlier this year, and caught about 10 minutes of their set there. Mostly I’m ambivalent. I was, however, more interested in seeing Grizzly Bear and to a lesser extent Girls. I tried to see Grizzly Bear at Coachella, but their tent was too packed, I couldn’t make it in. As for Girls, ok cool.
So, as someone not entirely wrapped up in any of the bands, I feel like I could think more about the concert-going experience and what these bands brought to the stage. Interestingly, despite their obvious differences in sound and presence, these 3 bands seem to me to have certain things in common (besides all having lame band names that are useless to look up in Google). Mainly, I noticed a similar songwriting style. I mean, I don’t believe there was any songs that had any sort of chorus; and they wrap their verses in relatively subtle riffs and melodies. This of course is cool on record, but to a giant crowd? Something felt lacking.
There are two types of live bands, in my experience: those that come out and play their songs, and those that come out and play. Girls is the first one. They came out, did their songs, and left. Though I’ll be fair, they only played for like 17 minutes. Their first couple songs made little impression, and then just as they were getting into it, their set ended.
Grizzly Bear came next. You know how their great records and songs can sometimes have an awkward yet beautiful momentum to them? Live, it’s slightly annoying. I kept hoping for a bit more groove, but all the constant changes kind of nullified it. Despite that, I’d say they came off pretty well on stage, I enjoyed their voices, and their songs have continually grown on me over the years. Halfway through, Leslie Feist came out and sang a song (and danced around and sang harmony on another), and she always sounds great.
Phoenix closed it down. They are a talented band, and have a sound that can fit in a big place like the Bowl. They definitely had a bit more muscle than either Girls or Grizzly Bear. The songs I liked the best were the ones that seemed to be built more on a synthesizer sound. Like I said, though, the lack of choruses made the show feel odd to me. I don’t want my bands to necessarily be U2 and sing a bunch of anthems, but by this point, I wanted something. Reach out and grab me, Phoenix! They did not. Since I didn’t really know any of their songs (not a radio listener, obvs), most of what they did went right through my ears.
At one point, Phoenix walked out into the middle of the crowd, and played a few songs from there. From my vantage point, up in the back, it was a giant lull in the show. But I guess that was nice for the people in that section. Also for a bit, they dropped a white curtain down and started to play behind it. I thought, hmm like The Wall? But you could see their silhouettes through it, and there was little rainbow lights lighting it up, and they kind of just noodled bass solos (which they seemed to do a lot) or something from back there. I’m not sure what statement they were making, but it certainly wasn’t anything like Pink Floyd’s statement about the wall between band and audience. I’m sure the whole thing is some sort of symbolic message about modern music I haven’t figured out.
Here’s a couple of mp3s:
I wanted to share this pretty cool cover of Bob Dylan’s “Sad-Eyed Lady Of The Lowlands” that Phoenix recorded at some point, but the file size is too big, so here it is on Youtube:
and while finding that, I found an audience clip of the Grizzly Bear/Feist performance!