Imagine having the audacity to invoke one of the greatest composers in the history of music by calling your record “Wolfgang Amadeus [band name].” The French indie pop outfit Phoenix has never been bashful, especially not during its imperial era, when 2009’s Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix was instantly hailed as a modern classic LP and a benchmark of millennial indie music. On the strength of singles like “Lisztomania” and “1901,” the group headlined the behemoth Coachella festival in 2013, among plenty of other large-scale gigs around the world in the decade since. Yet in 2023, they’re playing a mid-tier venue in South Florida.
The group’s most recent full-length, Alpha Zulu, which was released just over a year ago, wasn’t a dramatic fall-off in quality—some in the music press even called it a return to form after 2013’s Bankrupt! failed to set the world on fire, and 2017’s Ti Amo was a disappointment. But the downgrade in stature that Phoenix has experienced over the past decade seems to be more of a result of changing tastes than a decline in quality. The simple fact is that Phoenix’s specific brand of indie music—something like a Strokes souffle that’s been seasoned with Daft Punk spices—has fallen out of favor as time has passed. This band, which was once seen as the vanguard of crossover indie music, has since been resigned to resting on its laurels.
And so there we all were, braving the rain on a blustery Tuesday night to arrive at what was initially supposed to be a gig in “The Backyard at Revolution Live,” an outdoor space the venerable Fort Lauderdale venue has taken to using when it books acts that are more of a draw than its usual indoor area can accommodate. “Thank you to the staff here,” frontman Thomas Mars said towards the end of the show, “because we set up outside, then the rain came, then we set up inside.” Even though he also opined that Revolution’s indoor space “looks like a fight club or something,” it was the right call. Heavy rains continued to fall throughout the night, and the city’s much-maligned drainage system had once again backed up to the point of local flooding by the time attendees were heading home.
The downside, of course, to moving the show indoors, is that the venue was even more packed than it typically would have been for a gig of this caliber, with strong sightlines nearly impossible to come by for any attendees who didn’t arrive early and wait in the rain. Even the sound suffered from the glut of additional bodies in the venue, with particularly muddy vocals and lead guitar lines that struggled to cut through the synth-heavy textures the band has leaned into over its past few records. From my initial spot at the very back of the venue, I wrote in my notes “Ah yes, the dulcet tones of a band you like playing two houses down the block” as the group opened the show with “Lisztomania.” Eventually, I was able to shuffle into a spot where I could see the musicians’ foreheads, and considered that a success.
Despite all of the above gripes, it’s no small feat that this show did go on, weathering the storm in more ways than one. A testament to the band and venue staff’s abilities to adapt to unforeseen circumstances, what could have been a very wet and miserable evening outdoors—or even a postponement or cancellation—instead went ahead on time and without issue. The group was as tight as ever, a coalition of five professionals who know well after all these years how to best leverage a stable of impeccable songs to great effect. Mars deployed his uniquely strong and smooth vocal style to lead the crowd through tracks old and new, eventually making his way into the crowd by climbing along railings and crowdsurfing during the encore. Drummer Thomas Hedlund, who has been a touring member of the band for nearly two decades, remains the most gifted and compelling musician within its ranks, attacking his kit throughout the evening with a measured fury on classic beat-forward tracks like “Lasso.”
A Phoenix show in 2023 is exactly what one would hope it would be—heavy on tracks from Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix with a healthy smattering of singles and fan-favorites from throughout the rest of its discography. Regardless of the size of the venue or the weather outside, it’s hard to walk away disappointed when a show closes with a song as anthemic as “1901.”
Too Young / Girlfriend
Long Distance Call
If I Ever Feel Better / Funky Squaredance
Telefono / Fior di Latte
Everything Is Everything