‘Rock stars’: Phoenix & The Soft Pack @ Showbox Sodo

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French indie-pop outfit Phoenix had a big year in 2009, going from an underrated, largely undiscovered curio to a household name and Cadillac commercial fodder. Last time these guys came to Seattle (not counting The End’s Deck the Hall Ball) they played The Crocodile, and this Saturday they packed the giant brick-and-cement dungeon Showbox Sodo completely full. Talk about a rapid rise to stardom. The fans flooded in close to the stage right after doors opened to ensure a good spot, not at all worried about the long wait ahead. After being completely surrounded by an astounding number of teenage girls in the crowd before a band had even took the stage, I conceded defeat and retreated to the back bar. Damn the Sodo and its terrible setup.

Opening band The Soft Pack started things off for the already full venue, offering up their SoCal-influenced post-punk of sorts to an audience patiently waiting for them to finish up. I always feel kind of sorry for bands like this opening for a huge name – only a tiny fraction of the crowd had likely heard of them before, and everyone else was just itching for some Phoenix. It didn’t help that the sound was mixed with a bit too much volume and bass that drowned out their occasional surf-guitar leads that sounded interesting in nature. The Soft Pack’s sound didn’t translate well in a huge venue like the Sodo either, and I found myself thinking that things would be very different if these guys were to play the Chop Suey or the Sunset or something.

Right when the crowd could seemingly wait no longer, the stage lights dimmed and an instrumental intro floated out from the speakers. Cheers arose, got louder when the band trotted onstage, and exploded as the opening two-note repetitions of “Lisztomania” were unveiled. The drums and bass kicked in, an impressive display of flashing lights illuminated the stage, the entire crowd proceeded to get down, and one thing was made absolutely clear: Phoenix are fucking rock stars. Listztomania, a term coined to describe the huge crowds and screaming female fans of piano virtuoso Franz Liszt, was exactly what was going on Saturday night.

As they progressed through their set they stuck to mainly new material off of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, but threw in a few old favorites from United and It’s Never Been Like That. “Too Young,” “Napoleon Says,” “Consolation Prizes” and “If I Ever Feel Better” sounded amazing, but didn’t elicit as much of a response from the mostly young audience obviously unfamiliar with the band’s back catalog. Nevertheless, Phoenix sound was polished and tight, anchored by Thomas Hedlund’s fierce drumming. The term “bang the skins” is taken to another level by this guy, with him standing up and smashing the sticks down full-force during a few numbers (Check the YouTube video of their Letterman performance for a small taste of how this guy tears it up).

The other band members showcased a bit of musicianship as well, toying with various aspects of their songs – an added electronic flourish here, a guitar interlude there. One of the most impressive moments was the lengthy instrumental “Love Like a Sunset” halfway through their set. Starting with a slow, sparse guitar and keyboard intro, gradually adding ominous synth buzzes as the two guitarists played off of each other’s trippy individual parts, then finally building up into a pounding percussive rock-out with dramatic red, white and blue lights flashing in time, the crowd was completely captivated by one of the only non-danceworthy numbers of the night.

After initially exiting the stage for a few minutes, Phoenix quickly returned to start their encore set with a vocal-only ballad version of “Everything is Everything,” then delivered with the moment everyone had been waiting for – “1901.” The quaking synth chords and clean guitar plucks were greeted with an enormous cheer and sent the huge crowd into an uncontrollable dance frenzy as sweat dripped from the pipes running across the venue’s ceilings.

About halfway through the song I found myself thinking that they could play this song for ten minutes and everyone would’ve been okay with it. Almost on cue as the song reached its normal end, lead singer Thomas Mars jumped offstage and rushed to the back of the all-ages section, stood atop a giant box or something and proceeded to crowd surf his way to back to the front as the band continuously played “1901.” The aforementioned lisztomanic female fans bum-rushed the stage and proceeded to continue their dance party while the rest of the still-bouncing crowd grinned and laughed at the spectacle unfolding in front of them. As the band struck one final huge, resonant chord, the crowd let out a tremendous cheer that seemed to say “wow, what show.”

Phoenix delivered in the best way possible in the wake of their rise to superstar status and undoubtedly left every person who saw them happy, sweaty and satisfied. That’s really saying something considering all of the elements they had working against them – a less-than-ideal venue, an audience packed in to the point that they were rubbing elbows with each other, and a young crowd with very limited knowledge of their older material. As throngs of fans left the venue traffic backed up along First Avenue, a legion of taxi cabs swooped at the opportunity to cash in and I jumped onto a passing bus that was full of people that had just left Sodo. There were many different faces on that number 18, but every single one of them was beaming with the same look – one of complete satisfaction and the knowledge that the show they had just left could not have been any better.

*** Check out more of Dave Lichterman’s photos of Pheonix and the Soft Pack here.

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Mike Ramos

About Mike Ramos

Mike Ramos is an awful person who was born in ancient Hong Kong. He is over 3,000 years old and remembers the names of all the forgotten gods. He is 90 stories tall, and his adventures are legendary.