Q: When does a Phoenix fail to rise from the ashes?
A: Looks like it's dependent on it's touring drummer.
The main appeal of the annual XRT Big Holiday Concert for me was the French pop sensation Phoenix. I initially balked at getting tickets to this show, especially since I've seen them twice this year already - and at better venues than the Allstate Arena. However, when a friend had extra tickets available, I didn't hesitate to grab'em.
Sadly, news broke shortly before they appeared on stage that they would be without their touring drummer due to a family health emergency that understandably, and rightly, held a higher priority than honoring a previous commitment to perform for a band in suburban Chicago. Phoenix could have just canceled their entire set - but instead opted to play a 20 minute acoustic set that featured only four songs.
It was painful to watch. Their songs lacked the intensity required to fill the area and the performers looked to have lacked the enthusiasm or momentum to carry through. They were painfully apologetic between their songs, and left the stage as dissapointed as the concert goers. Having seen them at full strength, I felt sorry for others that may have also assigned them the top spot in their lists of anticipation who weren't as lucky I to have seen them at their other two shows (which had sold out both the Park West and Aragon).
But all was not lost.
I didn't know it then, but to walk into the Allstate Arena concentrating on Phoenix's set was horribly short sided. This was not a Phoenix concert. Ask those four fries from Versailles - they'll tell ya also - this was a Flaming Lips show. The stage was set up for them, the majority of the crowd was there for them, and they bought it.
It's a shame I wasn't able to prepare for this show to the level I am accustomed to. Due to the unfortunate consequence of Do Make Say Think and Mew rolling into town in the week leading, I was musically focused on preparing for those shows. If I can, I like to listen to as much of an act's discography in preparation for seeing them live. I want to know what song is playing after three notes, I want to be able to yell the chorus and the verses.
The fact that, when I look back and realize that I was only familiar with their "radio hits," but still massively enjoyed the show, is a testament to how well The Flaming Lips performed that night. Shortly after the show I was asked what my highlight was... The question kinda took me off guard, and I hastily said it was when they played "Do You Realize" during a magnificent storm of confetti.
But looking back, I think the true highlight was the very start of the set. Starting with the human gerbil ball entrance...
Leading into their first song: "Race for the Prize" which included a release of large balloons into the crowd. I had General Admission floor tickets, right in the heart of the Bezerk of the Balloons. Let me assure you I used everything I learned during my stint on the Hersey High Volleyball team in addition to my natural height advantage to aid in my enjoyment of that first song.
One of my friends who was at this show with me is also a coworker. He walked up to my cube and saw me a tad perplexed hours before the show. It was because I was in "cram session" mode listening to this group. I told him that I felt a little overwhelmed due to how much music this group has produced over the last fifteen or so years. He calmed me down a bit, and told me their album "The Soft Bulletin" was solid. The first song on this album is in fact "Race for the Prize" and to have the first song of the set be recognizable, and have it be played in such an enthusiastic manner (washing away any poor Phoenix aftertaste) set me up to enjoy a great headlining set.
The Flaming Lips won me over.
Without question, I will want to see them the next time they stroll through town.
Any regrets I might have had about my lack of prep will be cleanly washed away with that next show.
I'm going to enjoy the next few months of my life, which will certainly include a further review of their musical resume. Yes, I'm late to this party - but that won't mean I'll be having any less fun at it.