With the unmistakable opening fanfare of “Entertainment,” Phoenix presented its manifesto for one of the final headlining sets of this year’s Lollapalooza. Equipped with a diverse back catalog of songs and a minimal yet effective stage show, the band put the focus on its music.
Front man Thomas Mars—arguably one of the most unassuming rock stars in existence—commanded the attention of the crowd, much like he did when Phoenix headlined the festival back in 2010. The rest of the band followed his lead, turning in a set that seemed tailored to elicit an overwhelmingly joyous response from those in attendance. Phoenix came armed with something that every other main stage headliner at this year’s festival was lacking: a new album that was released within the past six months.
Cuts from Bankrupt!—including the shimmering “S.O.S. in Bel Air” and the ELO-indebted “Trying To Be Cool”—took their place alongside tracks that dated back to the band’s 2000 debut. The group’s subtly subversive pop songs have aged well—tracks like “Too Young” and “Long Distance Call” were fleshed out to the point where they don’t sound like forced throwbacks to another era. An extended mid-set instrumental that evoked the electronic soundscapes of fellow Frenchmen Daft Punk was the closest Phoenix came to indulgence.
Mars reclined on the stage as his bandmates melded the slow build-up of “Love Like a Sunset Part I” with the pulsating synthesizers of “Bankrupt,” creating a cohesive suite that never got bogged down in its own complexity. As the evening progressed, Mars became increasingly attuned to the unflagging energy of the crowd. He sang “1901” perched atop the barrier separating the audience from the stage, looking out on the field of people dancing to Phoenix’s most recognizable song. After making their way through a triumphant rendition of “Rome,” the group broke into a downtempo reprise of “Entertainment” as Mars bolted through the crowd to the sound booth. A sea of hands rose to meet him as he rolled across the writhing mass of people, slowly crowd surfing back to the stage just in time for a final refrain. It didn’t come off like a contrived festival stunt—it truly felt like an artist reciprocating the audience’s adulation with one final, grateful gesture. That sentiment extended to Phoenix’s set which—just like the group’s famous robot friends—managed to give life back to music.
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