It’s three years since Phoenix last played in Manchester. Back in 2014, the band were touring in support of Bankrupt, their fifth record and first to follow 2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. A third of the evening was dedicated to this record that night, but when a release like Bankrupt follows one of the greatest pop albums of the twenty-first century, expectations are going to be high. The performance that night was incredible on the whole, but sadly the new record failed to resonate to the same degree as its predecessor and its songs were definitely the weak link.
Fast forward a few years and the French band are back. Back with a superb new record and back in Manchester. 2017’s Ti Amo was certainly a luminous return to form and the record forms the spine of this evening’s vibrant performance. Significantly, only one track from Bankrupt remains in the setlist and although there are similarities to the 2014 show in the structure and presentation of certain songs, the combination of brilliant new tracks with classic material from earlier albums makes the evening one to savour.
‘J. Boy”s summery synth tones open the show and Thomas Mars’ breathy, laid-back vocals ooze a Gallic charm that immediately connects with their devoted fans. The song and the new album it opens is as fresh as a daisy so it’s worth remembering the band are approaching almost two decades in the industry. ‘Lasso’ is a bounding, melodic pleasure with a sing-a-long chorus that the full house revel in emphatically singing along to; the clocks have gone forward, spring finally seems to have arrived and this song certainly provides the perfect antidote to the long drawn-out winter. Bankrupt‘s one real high point follows; ‘Entertainment’ is exactly what it says on the tin. If only the rest of the 2013 album was so jaunty and joyful.
Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix is such an accessible and iconic record, it is unsurprising that tracks like ‘Lisztomania’ get the biggest response, but the most satisfying moments from the band come when they shake things up a bit. One particular highlight is the stunning ‘Too Young/Girlfriend’ medley. Guitarist Christian Mazzalai gets the the stylish hit underway, made famous in Mars’ wife’s Lost in Translation and it imperceptibly morphs without breaking stride midway through with the dark yet upbeat ‘Girlfriend’. It must feel pretty good to know you can combine one of the greatest singles of the noughties with an album highlight from one of the best records of the following decade. The concoction is preposterously impressive but the instrumental interlude that follows is a sonic paroxysm full of cinematic flare and power that takes your breath away.
‘Love Like a Sunset Part I’ sees Mars depart as the rest of the band take us on an 80s synth crusade redolent of movies such as Risky Business, before pounding bass lines and untempered guitars shatter the diamond-encrusted veneer of the song. It peaks with a mountainous crescendo of drums before Mars returns to conclude the epic soundscape with its simmering partner-in-crime ‘Love Like a Sunset Part II’. It is an incredible ten minutes of drama followed by pathos that has to be seen and heard to be believed and it represents the band at their most imaginative and daring. The summery, jazzy timbre of ‘Ti Amo’ that follows is a pleasing shift in tone but seems slightly lightweight next to the behemoth that preceded it.
The vital ‘Rome’ concludes the first part of the evening before an extended and thrilling encore follows. ‘Countdown’ and ‘Goodbye Soleil’ are stripped back affairs with Mars joining the crowd to serenade them, with only Christian Mazzalai subtly accompanying him on the stage. Ti Amo is a summery affair but the record’s closing track ‘Telefono’ has an autumnal aesthetic allowing the evening to ebb and flow unpredictably once the rest of the band return to the stage. During these final moments, Thomas Mars goes walkabout amidst the crowd, disappearing one moment, only to return surfing on a wave of outstretched hands the next. It’s a thrilling and indulgent way to go out, but then that’s what Phoenix are all about.
Lead photo and above: Iain Fox. See more photos of the evening here.