The distinctly magical aura that graces summertime shows at the Hollywood Bowl descended early upon Los Angeles Thursday night, just a few days before the official start of summer, with performances by The Lemon Twigs, Mac Demarco and Phoenix.
The stadium was filled to the brim, not a feat often achieved at the monstrous 17,500 seat venue. This is likely attributed French rock powerhouse Phoenix — this being their first North American tour in the last three years. Phoenix embodies all sorts of nostalgia for many of the 30-somethings in the audience, their sparkly pop anthems off 2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart holding a special place in many hearts.
Opener Mac Demarco led with the synth-heavy groove “On The Level,” off his newest album, This Old Dog and rolled through his 8-song set conveying equal parts misfit, goofy youngster, and genuine talent. His stripped-down and sunshine-laden guitar tunes took the audience on a groovy and relaxing ride.
Demarco has cultivated the reputation of a loveable degenerate, with a chill sense of ambivalence and constant on-stage tomfoolery–nudity at shows, getting arrested for crowd-surfing, and casually sharing his home address on one recorded track, inviting fans over for coffee, if they dare to make the trek.
Deadbeat-prankster persona aside, Demarco’s legitimate talent shouldn’t be overlooked. Effortlessly chill grooves flow from him like calming waves, the perfect tunes for your pre-surf playlist or casual backyard hangouts. Demarco lulled the crowd into sleepy contentedness with the simple acoustic guitar on “This Old Dog” paired with his unadorned vocals. Like the live show, his newest album’s instrumentation is genuinely tight, and comes paired with tender lyrics. Even prankster bros have a heart, you see.
Already visibly sweating at this point, Demarco soon brought the expected shenanigans, getting down into squat position while playing guitar riffs, as if fitting in a quick lunge workout. The band launched into a piano-driven melody that turned out to be a jokey cover of Vanessa Carlton’s 2002 hit “A Thousand Miles.” Mock forgetting (or perhaps just not bothering to learn) the full lyrics, Mac sang the intro line of “Making my way downtown” over and over, slowly devolving into a forgetful drizzle, his arms outstretched dramatically as if it was the performance of his life.
Wry and self-deprecating, Demarco addressed the audience, saying, “Sorry if we bothered you, you can’t win them all. Thanks for having us” before closing out the set with crowd-pleaser “Chamber of Reflection,” a pure oasis of groovy synth. He kept the goofy dance moves alive, motioning as if stirring a pot with his guitar.
Although the fans turning up strictly for Phoenix may have taken Demarco for a bit too loose in his style, he set a fitting mood for the warm summer night. He kept it light and fun, perfectly teeing up Phoenix to delve a bit deeper, and rock a bit harder.
Phoenix put on nothing short of a rockstar-caliber performance. They gave the crowd the expected dose of nostalgia, gliding through their sweet, sparkling pop of the 2009 era.
Understandably, the crowd engaged excitedly at the old hits, a collective murmur of excitement erupting upon the first notes of “1901”’s addictively catchy guitar riff. Smash hit “Lisztomania” got a winning majority of the stadium on their feet dancing emphatically.
However, the band’s production may have been the true star of the show. The stage set-up included a giant mirrored plane, mounted above the stage, providing an immersive multi-angle view of everything the band was doing. You could watch the drummer from above, and also from the usual orientation. It literally created a two-fold experience. The lighting was mind-boggling, swathed in uplifting hues for nearly every beat of their set. For “Trying To Be Cool,” the stage setup looked like a cotton candy rainbow dream, lit up in it’s entirety as the whole stadium chanted along “Tell me that you want me / Tell me that you want me.”
Phoenix didn’t just breeze through the old hits, relying on their well-known pop anthems’ effervescence, though. Their newest album Ti Amo rocks a little bit heavier at they rocked hard indeed for the live incarnation. “J Boy” and “Countdown” proved the band can keep the catchiness of the pop hits while rocking a little harder– the final encore involved frontman Thomas Mars trekking deep into the Bowl crowd with the mic, and returning to stage for a literal mic drop. Cue the applause.
While the Phoenix of 2009 may be the musical equivalent of young love–sparkly and beautiful, rainbows galore– they’ve proven that they can take their sound into a new musical direction– still tied to their roots but enough of a new sound (and an impressive live presence) to deliver an engaging show and achieving more than just nostalgia.