Live Review: Phoenix – The Arches, Glasgow

3657098854_89e0834cf0_bPhoto by Chris Sullivan

The Arches in Glasgow is a spectacular venue. What was derelict space beneath Glasgow’s Central Station is now 65,000 square feet of space transformed into various bars, cafes and stages. However, the main stage itself still retains a great deal of its charm. Bricked arched walls with pipes running across the centre of the ceiling make for undeniably classic touches that make it feel like some alternate version of the opening of Blade – like everyone is suddenly going to start gorging on blood much to my bewilderment. Thankfully this did not happen and really I couldn’t be having of such activities because the prospect of Phoenix became more exciting when placed in such an immediately impressive venue.

The unfortunate part of the evening came from having to watch the support band Chairlift. Not to instantly dismiss them but compliments are so hard to muster up for a band who either suffered unfortunate technical difficulties or just desired to destroy the audiences eardrums before hearing more than ten minutes of music. For a band who are finding fame from being featured on an itunes advert from boppy bass driven “Bruises”, the rest of their music doesn’t hold any other similar quality. Seemingly scantily dressed, singer/keyboardist Caroline Polachek sings high and furiously at points but her shriek is so badly fed through the wires it leads to the aforementioned ear torture.

The synthetic, almost Duran Duran-esque music itself was equally questionable: the hooks weren’t nearly tantalizing enough to remember or penetrate and too often the noise was too thick to be engrossed by comfortably. The band themselves had odd qualities but not in a charming or quirky manner, rather a slight pretentiousness about them for something the music fails to back up: Polachek crooned over an unenthusiastic crowd while Aaron Pfenning stood mechanically at the side, overtly impressed that he can play his guitar while holding it up slightly in the air. But I feel may have understood the music wrong or heard it in the incorrect environment, leading to my dismissal of it. Yet when “Bruises” closed their set, I was so unmoved I could barely find desire to tap my foot, hoping more that she sung at just the right pitch and distance from the microphone so I wouldn’t have the song piercing through my head with a threatened literal effect.

But when Phoenix took to the stage all thought of what came before was lost and suddenly I found myself overwhelmed with such excitement that when the chorus of the still exceptional “Lisztomania” kicked in I was jumping up and down like a child at the prospect of Disneyland. With its contrasting sparse verse to its infectiously rallying chorus, “Long Distance Call” would seem a bad choice to continue the opening excitement on paper. Practice is such a wondrously different thing I care not to even dwell on such written theories. In the hands of anyone else I can only imagine that the brief guitar riff in “Lasso” would be overused and lose any thrilling effect. Phoenix, of course, use it for maximum effect by keeping it brief and instead putting the emphasis on the scurrying drums, building to another near invulnerable chorus.

The material from their latest, Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, was as enthralling as one might hope for, if not more so, even when they change the songs structures: “Fences” was cut shorter but the band gave the audience the most importance essence of it as they were bathed it bars of blue light; “Love Like a Sunset” saw guitarists Laurent and Christian playing off each other under spotlights before singer, Mars, stood up from the temporary resting place he took on stage. But songs from the previous albums sounded just as good: when “Napoleon Says” began it hit with such a force I almost fell back; “Run Run Run” on the other hand had me glued to the spot with the enthusiasm it was played with.

It must also be said that Mars also knows how to work and appreciate a crowd. When “Girlfriend” and “Armistice” were played in succession, the crowd were treated to not just the band extending the outro of the latter song but also to Mars singing at the barrier as the crowd raised their hands in joyous appreciation. By the time the encore was set to end he jumped the barrier completely and walked through the crowd. Although he was amongst them, the fans still didn’t know whether to concentrate on him or the band playing “1901” on stage. Music this good hits you from all directions.