23 September 2006
Phoenix with La Rocca
333 11th Street (btwn Folsom & Harrison) [Map]
Drinks Consumed: Numerous beers, too numerous to count.
Review at the Owl Mag
Watching Phoenix with La Rocca at Slim's marks the first time I felt like I was among the oldest people at a show, and I'm only 25. The place was packed with teenagers, which was puzzling considering Phoenix has been around since 1999. Then again, Modest Mouse spent 7 years playing for drunk indie fans in tiny venues before they hit the top 40 charts, made all the teenyboppers howl along to "Float On," and found themselves covered on a KidSongs album. But I digress...
La Rocca's frontman Bjorn Baillie summed it up early on: "We're a fucking Irish band." His proclamation of Irishness lends me a free pass to compare them to other Irish bands. To expound, they're an indie rock/pop band in the vein of The Thrills— and at times they even sound a little like U2. Their rock is not innovative but it is fun. Keyboardist Nick Haworth's melodic keyboard parts prevent them from sounding wholly unoriginal and he's a treat to watch on stage. His hunched figure lays into the keys with a kind of hypnotic vigor reminiscent a great jazz pianist. Instead of a cigarette hanging from his lip, though, he had a bottle of Bushmill's under his bench and a microphone.
They opened with "Sketches (20 Something Life)," the catchy first track on their debut album The Truth, and followed with the more reticent "I Will Need Morning." There's something super polished about the album, so to hear the songs with the raw energy of a live performance gave me an appreciation for their music I didn't get from the album alone. They are the same band playing the same music but their energy live makes them a much more interesting band than their album might lead you to believe they are. They put on a hell of a show and watching the lead singer drool all over his microphone (he promised umbrellas for future performances) was just an added bonus.
While La Rocca surprised me, Phoenix let me down—but judging by the crowd's reactions, I was the only one who felt that way. I'm not sure why Phoenix decided that they wanted to be a rock band. It's Never Been Like That is wholly unlike their first album, United, save a few songs that betray remnants of their notable electro pop style. It must be evolutionary, since 2004 release Alphabetical fell somewhere between the former and latter, but they were something special when they focused on the electronic stuff. That's right kids—and I mean that literally—Phoenix did not used to sound like just another indie rock band.
The entrance was rather dramatic. I couldn't tell if a band or the Lakers were going to come onstage. The place went dark except for a few spinning spotlights, then some really cheesy NBA intro-style music played and the band came onstage to riotous applause. "Napoleon Says," one of the New Phoenix rock/pop tracks, and the just-a-little-electronic "Long Distance Call," both from this year's release, It's Never Been Like That, came first. They followed with "Everything, Everything" from Alphabetical. At this point, a 14-year-old girl snuck into the space in front of me and proceeded to rock out, lashing me with her Pantene Pro V hair. This is consequently the point where I looked around and realized that well over half of the crowd was not yet of voting age, which explained why the bartender wasn't just friendly but seemed eager to pour me beers.
Naturally, for me, the highlight of the show was when they put their rock band fantasies aside and played three tracks from United: "Funky Square Dance," "If I Ever Feel Better," and "Too Young," the song made popular by its inclusion on the Lost In Translation soundtrack. (Useless fact: director Sofia Coppola and lead singer Thomas Mars are having a child together.) Although they plunged into a guitar rock version of "If I Ever Feel Better" at the end of the song, they fortunately haven't completely forsaken their electro pop roots.
Despite my hang-ups, overall the show was everything a live indie rock show should be, and I'm glad I got to see La Rocca. As far as Phoenix goes, it's a vain hope that this rock thing is just a phase and they will go back to what they do best. But their teenage fan club, seems to think that they are fine just the way they are so we're not likely to hear another album like United any time soon.