While 2013 Lollapalooza headliners like Nine Inch Nails were celebrating a return to American soil and the Postal Service were taking a bow to end a storied career, Phoenix’s Sunday night set in Chicago’s Grant Park was a look towards the future.
The French pop band came out around 8:30 p.m. on the Bud Light Stage and was relentless in plying the crowd with a bevy of infectious rockers that made it impossible to stand still.
Opening with “Entertainment,” the lead single off their Asian-influenced Bankrupt!, Phoenix set the tone early. The upbeat tune woke everyone’s senses with its Eastern music tendencies and a bright light show that cut through the dark Windy City sky.
But it wasn’t until a few songs in that Phoenix really set the table. That happened with “Lisztomania,” the lead track off 2009’s commercial smash Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix.
The sextet ratcheted up the energy with an emphasis on thumping percussion and guitars that added a funky nature to the song, driving a field-wide dance party just as the sun was going down.
At that point, it was obvious that Phoenix had arrived, and this was going to be a joyous occasion.
Shortly thereafter, Phoenix pulled out another Bankrupt! track, the chillwave “The Real Thing,” but added in a bombastic end and a background that looked like television static to the techno-sounding groover.
Phoenix’s most-successful new album track “Trying to Be Cool” seemed even better in its live version. Several remixes have been done to the tune, but one only has to see it live once to see the influences of both Eastern music and disco.
Phoenix frontman Thomas Mars was the ultimate showman. On a few occasions, Mars jumped off the stage to interact with fans at the barricade that separated the mass of humanity from the band.
Mars would have nothing of that, though. Setting his mind to the task during the finale, Mars threw himself into the pit to sing the final bars of the song that would play the band off stage.
Phoenix also made a point of dusting off some of the gems from their formative years. That included “1901” from Wolfgang, and “If I Ever Feel Better,” which came on 2000’s United.
It was Sunday night, and Mars recognized that this crowd was especially energetic, noting that “Usually on a Sunday night, people are different… You are always the best to us!”
True, there were many in the Chicago audience who were on the Phoenix bandwagon from the beginning. But for those fans that were not originally on it, Phoenix’s appearance should have swayed their vote.