French pop band Phoenix play live from Studio X for XRT at Martyrs'.
Photo: Josh Mellin
In his jeans and blue Oxford shirts, with his hip but tired dad bedhead, Thomas Mars looks like a character you'd find working on a laptop in coffeehouse in San Francisco—not a global rock star. That humble appearance has been part of Phoenix's appeal. The Frenchmen are an approachable band. Or, well, it is a band that actively approaches the people.
On Saturday night, in the quaint Moorish Aragon Ballroom, Mars climbed into the balcony to serenade with "If I Ever Feel Better" and "Countdown." A bit later, at the concert's climax, he rolled atop the crowd from rear to stage like a 7-11 hotdog, singing "Entertainment." The group opened and closed its set with the joyful blast from it's latest and greatest, Bankrupt!. Yes, there is a bit of dry sarcasm to the title of the song, which skewers the pop industry, and Mars does sing "I'd rather be alone," but Phoenix is an openly crowd-pleasing act without being ostentatious about it.
The ebb and flow of the set was almost exactly like the last time I saw Phoenix at the Aragon, when it was touring Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. The intermission instrumental "Bankrupt!" works exactly as "Love Like a Sunset Did," to the point where Phoenix now melds the two into "Sunskrupt!" in the middle of show. This is precision engineering and execution, a studied and proven formula. Phoenix is the least likely band to go jam. The big question, as big as the smiles on the fans faces, is what can it do next?