Anticipation loomed heavy Sunday evening as a couple dozen crew members scurried around the main stage trying to get everything functioning correctly for Phoenix’s first US festival set in three years. At 9 p.m., the French outfit’s setup – a giant hanging mirror angled to reflect a bird’s-eye view of the band standing on what was essentially a Jumbotron doubling as their performance platform – was already 30 minutes late, and they were only slated to play until 10 p.m.
Ten or fifteen minutes tardy is one thing, but would delaying a whole half hour – and potentially cutting a handful of tunes – be worth the extra hassle?
Amidst the red-tinted, relative darkness of lead-off song “Ti Amo” – the title track and one of five new songs on the band’s upcoming sixth studio album (due June 9th) – and the similarly high-contrast, strobe-lit “Lasso” to follow, I wasn’t convinced. Then, as the band busted into the exultant breakdown of “Entertainment”, the floor screen suddenly transformed into a vibrant scene of waterfalls flowing through a green hillside, and the resulting reflection, which created the effect that the band was suspended between two spacial dimensions, was dazzling enough to ease any doubts about the production’s impact.
Similar trippy effects were achieved during the featured fresh cuts: Unremarkable synth-pop single “J-Boy” found the band floating across the surface of an enormous shimmering diamond, chill-paced electro anthem “Role Model” propelled them through some sort of film noir hallway, and encore-kicker “Fior di Latte” – the strongest of the new batch with its gentle cascades that gave way to almost church-like keys over a brisk beat – hypnotized with a neon paint drip effect.
While it was nice to hear what the band have been up to in the studio, those tunes were much less invigorating than staple dance-inducers like “Listomania” encore finale “1901” and slightly less interesting than the use of older tracks to achieve texture, ebb, and flow (the most enthralling example: “Bankrupt!” bookended by “Love Like a Sunset” parts I and II, which spotlighted guitarists Laurent Brancowitz and Christian Mazzalai’s superb subtleties along vocalist Thomas Mars’ explosive energy in between).
Any lost time was made up by extending the set a quarter past 10 p.m., at which point Mars finally made his customary pilgrimage into the audience, thanking fans and slapping hands as he ran up the center aisle to the rollicking reprise-riff of “Ti Amo Di Piu” before briefly climbing the lighting tower scaffolding to wave to peeps perched on the overlooking hill, then taking a quick victory-crowd-surf to cap off the weekend’s most conceptually stimulating set by far.
Click ahead to see an exclusive photo gallery from Shaky Knees 2017.