Phoenix and Daft Punk Stun Madison Square Garden (Recap)
What a difference a year can make, especially when you release an album that is nothing less than pop music perfection.
About a year and a half ago a little-known Parisian pop group, who was best known for having a catchy song on the “Lost in Translation” and “Shallow Hal” soundtracks, were given the chance to perform a couple new songs on “Saturday Night Live.” Last Wednesday night that same band, which the world now knows as Phoenix, tore the roof off of “the most famous arena in the world.”
After two years of non-stop touring the French quartet is winding down their world tour, and there is no better exclamation point than saying au revoir to America in a packed Madison Square Garden.
Last year, in late-September, I saw Phoenix perform at Philadelphia’s Electric Factory, a venue that holds only a couple thousand people. In an intimate, general admission only crowd, Phoenix owned the room from the opening drumbeat in “Lisztomania” to the frantic finish of “1901.”
A year later I was more than curious to see how their small venue show would translate to grand stage of the world’s most famous city’s most famous venue. There was a prevailing feeling throughout the crowd—could Phoenix’s lovely electric-pop play big enough to reverberate in an arena saved for acts like old-guard rock favorites U2, Bruce Springsteen, Paul McCartney, and the Rolling Stones?
It didn’t take long to find out. Armed with a new and even more exciting light show, (something they’re very fond of) a fog machine and tight, energetic set, Phoenix’s music swooned and seduced the crowd, without forgetting to rock their asses Frenchie style.
While the setlist mostly revolved around on their recent instant classic, “Wolfgang Amedeus Phoenix,” and rightfully so, the band also mixed in some old favorites like “Long Distance Call,” “Rally,” and “Run Run Run.”
It’s amazing to think that it took the band 10 years and three previous albums to discover the sound that has made them the current darlings of the indie music community. It’s also obvious lead singer Thomas Mars, bassist Deck d’Arcy, and dueling brother guitarists Laurent Brancowitz and Christian Mazzalai have come a long way since playing in their basements in Versailles, and are grateful for each moment on their stratospheric rise.
I would also be remiss to not mention the energy that Phoenix’s mystery drummer, Thomas Hedlund, has brought to the band. His work on the recent album has a lot to do with the band’s success, and his live performances have transformed some songs, especially “Run Run Run,” from slow and measured into dynamic rock songs.
The band’s pitch-perfect main set ended with “Rome” and the always-interesting “Funky Squaredance,” but it was their extended encore that left fans in awe. After the main set, the lights went out and the band left the stage only to reappear at the sound booth in the middle of the Madison Square Garden floor. The group slowed down the pace with acoustic performances of “Honeymoon” and a cover of the Johnny Hallyday song “La Fille Aux Cheveux Clairs,” which was nothing short of charming.
When the band returned to the stage to sing “If I Ever Feel Better,” an all too familiar electronic sound started playing in the background, and then the lights again went dark. Out appeared decently well-known French duo, Daft Punk, decked out their customary space helmets and black leather jumpsuits, stepping on stage for the first time in over three years.
What happened next was a mind-boggling blur, Daft Punk and Phoenix jammed together on a combination of their two biggest hits “Harder, Better, Faster, Stronger” and “Around the World,” before ending the show together with a once-in-a- lifetime performance of Phoenix’s “1901.”
For those wondering Phoenix and Daft Punk have more in common then just their French heritage, guitarist Laurent Brancowitz used to play drums in a band called Darlin’ with Daft Punk founders Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo and Thomas Bangalter. Before the group broke-up one of their performances was reviewed as “a bunch of daft punk.” The rest is history.
After France’s musical superstars took a bow, the audience’s collective mind was still racing. On one of music’s greatest stages the Parisians continued to exceed lofty expectations with one of the most surprising and entertaining concerts of the year.