As I was energetically car-dancing on my way to work this morning, I decided I wanted to brag. Not even a humble brag — I wanted to all-out brag about my good fortune, my good taste, and the greatness of the art I was consuming. You see, I discovered Phoenix way back in 2006 — and here, I cannot take all of the credit. I discovered them by creating a music station on Pandora (I couldn’t even tell you which it was. I just logged back into my Pandora account for the first time in over a decade and none of the stations scream “this was the Phoenix one.” Maybe Radiohead?) The first song I ever heard by the French pop gods was off of 2006’s It’s Never Been Like That, and it was called “Sometimes in the Fall.” In truth, I probably heard “If I Ever Feel Better” on the Lost in Translation soundtrack before I realized what I was listening to, but I digress.
I don’t know why “Sometimes in the Fall” hit me the way it did. It’s not the best Phoenix song. Perhaps it was the repetition of the word “fall” and “long” in the lyrics, the way Thomas stutter-steps on the latter that makes it extra fun to sing along to. Perhaps it was the literal repetition of the song on Pandora. It would come up once every hour and a half or so, it seemed, but it was one I NEVER skipped when it was in the rotation. There was just something about it that grabbed me, and so I bought the record from whence it came, which then led to my attendance at Phoenix’s performance at Austin City Limits 2006.
They were on a side stage in the heat of the day, with the sun beating down on us all. I’m embarrassed to say I didn’t even realize the guys were French when I saw them live. What I do remember is the swagger Thomas Mars seemed to have. Maybe because I was younger, maybe because they were not nearly as popular as they are today (post-Wolfgang) so they had less to lose — but I remember a sort of winking flirtation between the band and the audience that immediately captivated me. I danced around in the hot sun, sweating — I was pretty recently single and still heart-aching for my ex, but also feeling free and excited for the Muse headlining set that Sunday — and thoroughly enjoyed my time. And that was that. I didn’t follow the band too closely until all of a sudden, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart was everywhere and led to friendships, band-stalking and all sorts of other excitement.
Which brings us to Las Vegas. After their latest release, Ti Amo, there were no Texas dates to be seen on Phoenix’s tour line-up, so my sweet (and poker-loving) husband suggested we make a vacation of it and head over to the city of lights.
Since the show was scheduled to be held in a place called the “Brooklyn Bowl,” I had to keep double-checking the location to ensure we weren’t headed to the wrong town. As it turns out, Brooklyn is so hip that they had to expand out to Vegas (or something). The venue is an actual bowling alley that’s up some stairs and kinda sideways, so that made entering the place and scouting out a spot on the GA floor trickier. Luckily Zack and I are concert veterans and found a way to stake our space only three rows back from the front gate, Christian Mazzalai-side. It felt a little wrong because my girl Melissa and I always went for Bronco/Thomas side when we saw the band, but it worked out in the end as I got a few winks and nods from Christian.
Phoenix fans in Vegas are absolutely amazing human beings. I was concerned initially that I’d be facing already drunk, entitled a-holes, but instead I was surrounded by fans and superfans who banded together to push out anyone trying to squeeze to the front at the last minute (or almost at the end of the set, as two particularly annoying bishes attempted). We’d lock arms, throw shade, and dance wildly to send these wannabes back to the back where they belonged.
Most importantly, the band sounded as electric as ever. It’s so funny to me that from that set in 2006 to a much smaller (but very respectable) crowd to sold-out shows now, Thomas and his crew have gone from confident and cheeky to child-like and awestruck when they perform. It’s so fun to see their faces, filled with wonder *to this day* about how they are able to pull so many people into a room and inspire them with song.
The new songs from Ti Amo are just as fun live as you might expect, if you’ve listened to the album. The fans around me and I agreed that Phoenix albums are usually growers — rather than immediately hooking you, they stick with you long after the first listen until they charm you, almost hypnotically, and soak into your bloodstream. You have the ready-for-take-off rock of the title track, the fist-pump-worthy rhythm of “Role Model,” the undeniable hook in “J-Boy” (which, if you’re like me and definitely didn’t know, stands for that very hook — “Just Because Of You”). And then there’s “Fior di Latte.”
How does one go about writing a love letter to a song? How can I begin to explain what “Fior di Latte” makes me feel? First of all, it is the sexiest Phoenix song OF ALL TIME don’t @ me. But seriously, there’s no sexier song in all of their catalogue. It’s Thomas, singing lovingly but with severity about needing his lady to get her some pleasure. “Fior di Latte” translates to flower of milk — yes you have just been scandalized and I DON’T CARE I LOVE IT. Then you listen to the rest of the words and it’s flirtatious and intimate, and then you get that grind-worthy rhythm going and — don’t just take my word for it.
So when this perfect tune wasn’t included in the first 14 on the Vegas setlist, I tried to be ok with it. I did an internal shrug and thought, maybe they’ll hit Texas later and work it into their show by then. But of course — of COURSE — Phoenix understands what they have on their hands. They get that this is a panty-dropping triumph, so they worked it into their encore with a stripped down “Countdown,” freakin’ “1901” and an encore of “Ti Amo.” Bless you, Phoenix, for seeing into my heart and giving me what I need every. single. time.
When Thomas took to the crowd with his signature neon-orange mic cord during “Ti Amor Di Piu,” he came straight into the crowd where my newfound posse and I were huddled. All I could do was say, “Thank you, thank you, merci, merci, thank you” again and again as he passed me, and pat his back, and let my eyes well up.
I share all of this because I want for everyone to have something they hold as dear to them, something that — without fail — puts a smile on their face, the way Phoenix does for me. Find something that makes you want to dance in your car, and blast it.