I used to think Phoenix was no more than a band of trendy French guys who had managed to leverage their connection to the band Air into a friendship with filmmaker Sofia Coppola and a song on the soundtrack for Lost in Translation. I thought their music was warmed-over ’80s pop for hipster kids who don’t remember how boring ‘80s pop could be. I was wrong.
In the past year and a half, Phoenix has earned my respect the old-fashioned way: by putting out a good album and touring relentlessly to support it. And clearly I’m not the only American they’ve won over: Since Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix came out, the band has sold out bigger venues.
The first time I heard Wolfgang, I thought it sounded like loops recorded and arranged on a computer and mixed to sound punchy coming out of iPod earbuds, but I’ve since heard Phoenix play live, and they sound nearly the same. What I thought was the sound of a computer repeating a loop is actually the sound of a tight band.
What’s really interesting to me about Wolfgang is that songs like “Lisztomania” and “Girlfriend” are catchy, but they are also quite strange around the edges — and I’m not just talking about the seemingly nonsensical lyrics. I used to think Phoenix was trying to cash in on the recent hipster craze for ’80s yacht rock. As it turns out, Phoenix had their commercial breakthrough when they went in a less commercial and more original direction. Sometimes it’s good to find out you’ve been wrong.
Neon Indian also performs.
- Sunday, November 20, 2011, 8 p.m.
- Open Air Theatre, 5500 Campanile Drive, San Diego