Photo by Allyce Andrew
Remember when Daft Punk joined Phoenix onstage at Madison Square Garden for the last 15 minutes of their encore, and awesomeness found a new ceiling? I’d actually forgotten, until just now. That was just over three years ago, right when Phoenix reached the top tier of the headliner hierarchy, while touring in support of their fifth album, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix – and when Daft Punk was REM stage-four in their six-year dormancy, their only other noteworthy activity being a quick Grammys cameo in 2008. Probably not by coincidence, 2010 was also one of the peak years of the mashup explosion: a dubiously legal movement in sampling that catered especially to the short attention-spanned (like me, apparently).
In retrospect, that moment may have informed this year’s Bankrupt! tour more than we could have thought – and not just because they pulled it off again at Coachella by somehow convincing R. Kelly to lay “Ignition (Remix)” and “I’m a Flirt” over their own “1901” and “Chloroform” in real time, thereby basically laying claim to the two highest profile live recreations of a mashup since mashup became a word. It’s because they witnessed the special kind of audience reaction that occurs when a live band pulls the rug out at the peak of an awesome song, revealing a completely different, but even more awesome rug.
Unlike their Wolfgang tour, Phoenix’s live shows this year were highlighted by medleys of their own songs, as if they hired an audience member to stand behind the curtain and press “skip” on them like it was iTunes, from “Too Young” into “Girlfriend”, “Love Like a Sunset” into “Bankrupt”, and “Trying to Be Cool” into “Drakkar Noir” into “Chloroform”. Where this could come off as kitschy for a guitar-loyal band, it’s actually perfect for Phoenix, because it’s in line with the balance they’ve always kept when at their best: an arena rock fan’s favorite dance group and a dance music loyalist’s favorite arena rock band.
Anyone who saw them this year, in one of their some-75 performances that covered the globe and so many major festival stages, was likely treated to each of those hybrid cuts on top of established stunners “1901”, “Lisztomania”, and closer “Rome”. They also saw one of the most visually arresting live shows of this day, complete with raining confetti, chromatic blasts of stage light, and a crowd-surfing Thomas Mars. It’s become so many things all at once that only one word feels right, and it could be an obsolete one by Phoenix’s next tour: Awesome. —Steven Arroyo