Staff Editor on
By JASON BERK
Phoenix brought their “Alpha Zulu” tour to the YouTube Theater in Inglewood on Thursday night with a career-spanning show emphasizing that, 25 years in, the French indie-rockers sound as fresh and vital as ever.
After an opening set by up-and-coming band Porches, Phoenix began the proceedings with the trappings of a classic stage play, with Romanesque columns displayed on proscenium screens while classical music played. A black curtain rose dramatically to the strains of 2009’s “Lisztomania,” from their breakthrough fourth album, “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix,” immediately hyping up the largely millennial crowd. With jangling staccato guitars and a swinging drumbeat, one could assume they were France’s answer to the Strokes, had they not actually come first. The quartet (aided and abetted by their longtime touring keyboardist and drummer) followed with “Entertainment,” from 2013’s “Bankrupt!,” and proceeded with a high-energy set that touched on nearly all of their records.
Given the stranglehold it had on the music-buying public at the end of the 2000s, the band can’t be blamed for playing eight of “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix’s” 10 songs, and the crowd was loudly receptive to the throwbacks to their high school days. But Phoenix is a band that continues to experiment and look forward, and the new songs from “Alpha Zulu” (their first album in five years, arriving Nov. 4) were well-received and confidently presented by the group. Despite the traceable evolution in sound, Phoenix has always been a band of consistent quality, which was no more evident than when they seamlessly followed new song “Winter Solstice” with their 2006 classic “Long Distance Call.”
The visual presentation was as impressive and electrifying as the music, with layers of tiered screens giving enhanced depth to the staging, and ample use of strobing complemented the band’s electronic leanings. The theatre motif that opened the show returned throughout, with the curtain closing after “Love Like a Sunset, Pts. 1 & 2” and text on the screens reading “End of Act I,” which confused several concertgoers who started to leave the auditorium, expecting an intermission. But after about 60 seconds, the curtain rose again and the band kicked into 2022’s “Tonight” and continued for another seven songs before reaching the end of Act II, culminating in a medley of “If I Ever Feel Better” and a hard-hitting “Funky Squaredance,” which proved beyond a doubt that despite the synths, they have always been a rock band at their core.
The show was polished, every song record-perfect, but it was still very much a live event, as 2017’s “Lovelife” broke down quickly and had to be restarted, frontman Thomas Mars laughing off any flubs. The encore emphasized the live nature of the show, with Mars accompanied solely by bassist Deck d’Arcy on a regal blue harpsichord for a medley of “Telefono” and “Fior de Latte” from 2017’s “Ti Amo.” By the time they reached the final song of the evening, 2009’s iconic earworm “1901,” both band and audience seemed jubilant, with Mars utilizing an extended version of his trademark red microphone cable to go into the crowd and individually thank as many people as he could before crowd-surfing his way back to the stage. Some bands are content to coast at this stage of their careers, but for Phoenix, as the song goes, “it’s never been like that.”
Setlist: Lisztomania, Entertainment, Lasso, Too Young / Girlfriend, J-Boy, Alpha Zulu, Ti amo, After Midnight, Lovelife, Armistice, Love Like a Sunset Part I / Love Like a Sunset Part II, Tonight, Rome, Winter Solstice, Long Distance Call, Identical, If I Ever Feel Better / Funky Squaredance. Encore: Telefono / Fior di latte, Trying to Be Cool / Drakkar Noir, 1901, Identical (Reprise)