London WC1 Tokyo Joes

Good evening and welcome to industry cocaine hell. Or heaven...

Good evening and welcome to industry cocaine hell. Or heaven, depending on who you work for. An album launch ‘party’ is rarely the best environment to see the latest batch of hand-reared, cash-fattened bright new hopes, but consider that Phoenix haven’t played live in the few years they’ve had a record deal, let alone in this country before, and you can almost forgive the embarrassingly swanky venue. Thai prawn canapi? Thanks, we’ll pass.

Such hen-pecked nurturing can have its advantages. Witness the arrival of Phoenix not as four scruffy streetwise Parisian pups, but as a no-expense-spared ten-strong Afro-funk ensemble; extra musician friends hauled in for the ride to administer ecstatic ballast to the doe-eyed upstarts’ ambitious reappraisal of ’80s US MOR AOR. Witness too the attendance here of Phoenix‘s more celebrated kin, Daft Punk and Cassius, and you wonder why the UK is still the territory of choice when it comes to launching, almost habitually, new groups from Paris. Does France, after all it has given us, hold no interest for its own?

Whether the British public will take to Phoenix with quite the same enthusiasm as they did Air and Daft Punk before them is hard to predict. Pin-up singer Thomas Mars and co’s unashamed love for FX-slick ’70s disco and Steely Dan freeway jangling arouses suspicion in their detractors. And in this respect it’s hard to pin down the genuine Phoenix sound: of the five tracks played tonight, each reveals a different side to the band.

There’s rolling FM synth anthem ‘Too Young’, partied-out smoocher ‘On Fire’ and the electro-country-disco of ‘Funky Square Dance’, elements of which can all be traced back to their cover of Prince‘s ‘Forever In My Life’, the pared-down funk affair from ‘Sign O’ The Times’. And in ‘If I Ever Feel Better’ they have a joyous disco classic in the making, a kind of George Michael Jackson hybrid beamed down from Studio 54’s mirrorball. Phoenix are 20 years too late. But better late than never.