Phoenix are a unicorn. They’re a band that, despite being together for 18 years, have never set a foot wrong, never released an album bordering anywhere near average (or below), never ceased to bring new ideas to the table. Ahead of the release of their sixth studio album, ‘Ti Amo’, they only look to be stepping things up even more.
Last night (May 14), the French synth-pop group brought Atlanta’s Shaky Knees festival to a close for 2017 and, in the process, debut a mind-blowing new festival set that’s as likely to have you trying to get the perfect pic for the gram as The 1975 and The xx‘s recent live shows. Behind the band, a gigantic mirror hangs at an angle, reflecting all that’s happening on stage, from frontman Thomas Mars hopping about stage to the varied projections and images looping on a screen beneath the band’s feet. Coupled with Phoenix’s new songs, it has the power to turn a dusty park into a futuristic disco utopia.
‘Ti Amo’ kicks things off after a 30 minute delay (such majestic production isn’t a breeze to get set up, it turns out), immediately brushing away the disgruntled mood of the crowd with a strutting bassline and shrill synths that sound like Italo-disco gold. Everything is red and smoky on stage and a neon heart in touring drummer Thomas Hedlund’s bass drum glows bright. During a buoyant ‘Entertainment’ a couple of songs later, a bright, cartoonish waterfall flashes up, encasing the band in some kind of fantastical reservoir.
The visuals for ‘J-Boy’, the sashaying first song to be released from the forthcoming album, are sliding swatches of colour as bold as the track is impeccably cool. In the song’s final throes, they’re replaced very briefly by a kaleidoscope of mirrors. ‘Trying To Be Cool’ sees the band’s rainbow logo reflected on the looking glass behind them, while ‘Love Like A Sunset Part 1’ is accompanied by twinkling constellations. During the latter, a previously animated Mars takes the time to lie down on stage, gazing at the stars above him like he’s at the classiest laser show on earth.
It’s the encore that brings the most visually pleasing moments of the night, though, as well as a brand new song in ‘Fior Di Latte’. The track is cinematic and lusty, Mars purring “We’re meant to get it on” over glistening piano. Behind him, a cerulean screen is covered in gloops of bubblegum pink, asymmetrical patterns and more trickles of colour that fall in the same satisfying way as ultra thick milkshake cascading down the sides of an overflowing cup. As the song ends, everything goes black and the neon heart is the only thing left glowing.
A couple of songs later, Mars ventures down to the pit dividing the crowd and up the rigging next to the sound desk. He attempts end the set by crowdsurfing his way back to the stage where his bandmates are playing an amped up, instrumental version of ‘Ti Amo’, but gets tangled in his mic cable and eager hands. No matter – Phoenix could have played like statues and still left the stage content tonight. As it is, they leave champions, still yet to ever disappoint.