Losing My Goddamn Mind Over Watching Phoenix Go F*cking Bonkers Live
Just when I thought Dashboard Confessional was enough to relive the horrors and delights of my 2010s (one of them at least; in particular, my emo-goth-punk-skatercore kid phase), I got to witness the ultimate bubbly feel-good pop rock band of my youth. Or screw it, maybe ever. My generational bias is showing, I know.
I've always heard they were nuts live, and I can now confirm that they really are. Let me get the hyperbolic bullshit out of the way before I get into the actual concert review: it was spiritual, the way the crowd responded during this vigil of sorts. It was transcendental, how they bridged the zeitgeist. It was rewatching my 13-year-old self watching the band of a billion pretentious indie boyhood dreams come to life. It was a hallucinogenic visual trip, without the actual drugs. It was a meditation of nostalgia and new wave/synth-pop rock musical glory of the Y2K all the way to the early 2010s, without the slow-it-down zen. It was as crazy as I imagined it would be. And then some.
The boys are all right.
We had a Pink Floyd-esque lights show, the images of Versailles (they are really, really French, mind you!) as the band's backdrop, and the spirit of Iggy Pop in their rhythm and groove (but with white-guy skinny jeans, floppy hair, and long sleeves on). Their Wanderland Festival 2023 show last night, Sunday, March 5th, marked the band's first return since 2017. Three years before that, they had their first sold-out headlining concert in Manila. They were cool then. They were cool in 2010. They were cool in 2017. Today, checking notes: yes, they're still cool in 2023.
Last night was a triumphant return (not in the press release-y kind of way but in the live-mega-adrenaline-shot-you-can't-escape-us kind, like, seriously, you just couldn't help yourself). The Manila audience is great for indie foreign acts for good reason: we love to get down. We love to please. The French four-piece's brand of jovial lyricism, synth-poppy riffs, and wackadoodle energy were euphoric. We ate it up like how fish eat throw-away bread in a mossy pond.
It was a marriage of tenderness, new-wave popyness, and sentimentality in the most vibrant of ways. Everyone was singing along (we were all nonsensical or mumbling at various points of the show but yeah, "singing" along to Phoenix songs has never been a thing; you're supposed to just listen and feel!). Everyone was bobbing their heads. Everyone was dancing. Everyone was loose and perky. Everything felt right (even though we all knew we were heading back to work the following day). Everything could've have come in a better package. You had to have a little buzz going. You had to smile. You had to find a friend. If you couldn't, you'd see one in a random corner. These were the indie kids of yesteryear. There was a communal nature to it all. Christ, what happened to us? The quarter and middle ages are discreet little fuckers, aren't they?
The energy reverberated from the stage. As it should've.
Phoenix Is Headlining Wanderland 2023
Phoenix's Thomas Mars on Filipino Audiences: 'We Love to Hear Them Sing Along'
The vibes were immaculate from the start, as the chronically online Gen Zer (me) would say. They opened with their always-too-good-for-its-own-quirkiness 2009 seminal smash-hit "Lisztomania" and never looked back. That set the tone for the rest of the night. I felt like it was a little too risky to pull that shit that early, but as the program went along, I'd come to understand this is how they build the mass hysteria of their shows. It's like getting that first hit or bump or drag or whatever and riding that wave until the end. The song, admittedly, still weaves through my brain cells just thinking about it. I checked this morning and the kiliti is still there. They just sound amazing live. You just had to move. Maybe it'll never go away. That must've been the harpsichord composition that's been burned into my senses. I also thought it was pretty clever how they sort of melded the theater of live music, the techno-digital, and existential wonder. How hearty.
Damn, was that fun.
Of course, they had to rely on their back catalogue for their 21-song setlist. Hits like "Ti Amo," "Lasso," "Love Like a Sunset Part I" / "Love Like a Sunset Part II," "Rome," and "Armistice." They'd finish with "1901" and that was glorious to watch, especially with how it coincided with the burst of confetti toward the end. It was Wanderland's version of a proper, well-deserved climax, really.
Oh, they also played some stuff from their latest album Alpha Zulu, minted with some help from Daft Punk. That was nice, too. The synth was synthing throughout the entire set. Even when they fumbled a song (they did, midway; for the life of me, I can't remember what the song was), they never missed a beat. They'd do the song again just to get it right. Mad props.
The guys were up to their old antics, as well. They were having a party up the stage and so were we, down stage. Sure, singer Thomas Mars (unfortunately) didn't rip anything up or stand on keyboards or climb towers, but he did—or at least he appeared to—give us an honest attempt at crowdsurfing. After their final song, Mars would plunge into the audience, hug the fans, make his way out of the crowd cocoon, and, with some help from scrawny Filipino arms, stand up and bow as they finished the night. Spotlight on, riffs playing, phones out, fans screaming, and a sweaty Mars toying with the moment, that was quite the scene.
Mars, up close.
I think the thing that I got from watching them live is the fact that these middle-aged men have found jubilation in a different stage of their careers. The kind of jubilation that's liberating and infectious. It didn't feel like they were just trying to get the show over with. The vigor never wavered (even if mine admittedly did). The lights pierced through you, maybe even literally, pointing to something beautiful within. So did the music. The visceral quality of it all was consuming, reaching down to the parts of yourself you've long buried in the shadows.
This show evoked the happy kind of beauty—when you remember who you were once in your life or who you thought you wanted to be, and just how wrong you were. I can still hear myself saying to my high school freshman-year crush (her name was Nikka from St. Christopher) how I only listened to Phoenix or the Arctic Monkeys or how I knew this artist or that one. That was supposed to be a flex. Wow, how indie. We got an edgy boy over here! Hey, you know, cringe is a good thing, after all. It shows you how much you've grown. To cringe means to recreate the skidmarks from the past and drive through them again in the brilliant present with our shiny new selves. I loved that pompous kid just a little bit more last night. How could he have known. Yeah, so sentimental...
All love and gravitas, as Mars put it.