It’s never been like this (in D.C.).
Phoenix have been around for the better part of two decades, but you’d think they’re scrappy up and comers from the energy and enthusiasm they brought to last night’s show at The Anthem, DC’s newest music venue. Playing as a sextet – the core four members ably supported by a touring drummer and keyboard player/percussionist – the French veterans filled the room with bright synthpop grooves and pulsing basslines.
The show was a dance party from start to finish, and a reminder that when they’re on point, Phoenix is one of the most fun live acts out there. Their stage set up is a stunning visual accomplishment, with flooring that doubled as an ever-changing screen, reflected up and out to several thousand spectators by a giant, angled mirror. It was a clever use of space and made the most of the advantages of a modern music hall like The Anthem. In many ways, it encouraged you to take your seat on the second or third tiers to better take everything in – a true pop art spectacle.
If you’re a miserable grump like me, you probably wondered whether we really needed The Anthem. DC already had plenty of solid music venues, and the 9:30 is the crown jewel: an intimate, lived-in room with amazing sound and decades worth of memories, where world-class acts played to 1,200 people at most. A week and three shows in, I can honestly say I am so happy The Anthem exists.
This is a place purposely built to be a music venue – the sound quality is excellent throughout, the ceilings are high without feeling cavernous, and the sight lines are great from every angle – even the nosebleeds. It’s a mega-club, with all of the production capacity of a stadium show. And of course, some kinks are still being worked out – there were long lines for the bars on the floor level, spotty cell phone reception, and a brief audio hiccup halfway through Phoenix’s set. But who cares about that when you’re jumping around euphorically for ninety minutes, as most of the audience was last night? Phoenix played all of the slick tracks off of Ti Amo, the album they released this past June, but mixed the song selection well enough that we never went more than two or three tracks without hearing any of their hit songs. The latest interpretation of “Love Like a Sunset” was outrageous, with a bass-line so intense that you could actually see the air warping and shimmering continuously for several minutes before the musical release and climax.
A final note on programming: to be honest with you, I was very skeptical of the slate of shows booked for the inaugural week at The Anthem. Bands like the Foo Fighters, LCD Soundsytem, Queens of the Stone Age and Phoenix are established, big-name acts, sure – but they’ve been mainly out of the spotlight for the last few years, and it’s been over half a decade since any of their records sent audience pulses racing; just look at the lukewarm reception to LCD headlining Coachella last year, as well as the “meh” reactions to Phoenix’s 2013 album, Bankrupt!. If you want to make a statement and embody the direction of “New DC”, wouldn’t you try and book up and coming acts that better represent the bold future you’re promising? All that being said, I’ve been forced to eat humble pie thus far – the old heads have proven to be much more than nostalgia acts. It would just be nice to see someone like Frank Ocean, Childish Gambino, or Solange serve as an act of intent.