James Cabaret, Wellington | May 30
The Phoenix Foundation is Wellington’s pride and pleasure. Their eclectic sounds have become so familiar to the Capital that there is a strong sense of parochialism when they perform live. They didn’t disappoint, they were wonderful. After first experiencing the Phoenix live at the Big Day Out this year, their concert at the James Cabaret reinforced that they are musically on top of their game, surprising the crowd with their unexpected riffs and raffs, jingles and jangles, klicks and klangs. Their songs are full of sounds, subtle and bold, this gig showcasing their new EP Tom’s Lunch. As a proud Wellingtonian, it was great to see the Phoenix on their own stage under their own terms.
They kicked off with a mix of tracks from their new EP, and the relatively recent album Fandango. Their new material inspires trippy voyeurism and melancholia providing the perfect counterpoint to their more familiar pop territory. Opening number ‘Bob Lennon John Dylan’ (what a name!) is an uplifting piece of work that builds and builds, echoes and reveals. Its exuberant energy turned the crowd on and set us up for a smorgasbord of fun-fulfilled tunes. Drummer Chris O’Connor helped to create a distinct 80s vibe, particularly his snare drum in the track ‘Fiscal Pickle’; a powerful delivery of worker’s rights being taken away for the good fortune of those on top, “Waiting for the golden trickle when you’re in a fiscal pickle.” Chainsaw synths tear away at golden rhythmic trickles. Sound and vision, as Bowie would smile wittingly.
Masters of experimentation, the Phoenix Foundation’s “marijuana psychedelic” sound goes even further in Tom’s Lunch. Raucous in scope, the songs feel a lot more immediate, in that, the sounds feel like they’re being invented for the first time right before our eyes and ears at the ‘James Cab’. While listening, I would at times close my eyes and get completely absorbed into a futuristic world of robots and cyborgs, chanting and protesting in unison at the destruction of Mars. The imagination knows no bounds.
To bring the crowd safely back down to earth, the band played some of their classic anthems, and so when they began playing that all familiar opening riff, we all turned and saluted to ‘40 years’. I can’t remember the last time I was at a live gig where the music completely immersed the crowd in an inspired Greek Chorus of hands and feet. This was music at its best. Thank you, Wellington. Thank you, The Phoenix Foundation.