|Somewhere up there is a band called Phoenix.|
That's based on the French pop group's show here last night. Phoenix's rise to TV soundtrack and commercial-break ubiquity has been another tale of triumph for internet indie-music geeks, and getting a band with their level of cachet to Des Moines was a pretty huge deal, one more sign of a small Midwestern city's ongoing revitalization. The 1990s alternative rockers you might hear alongside these guys on Ames-based 105.1 FM (The New Rock Revolution) definitely weren't coming to town in their own day, you know? When organizers switched the venue from 7 Flags Event Center in Clive to the smaller People's Court downtown, I was ready for another sad, Devo-esque lack of ticket sales. Turns out I shouldn't have worried: The band was the only real disappointment.
|I'm on the ground, so pick me up.|
|This is also Phoenix.|
It's not that Phoenix were bad, exactly. Their performance was well-rehearsed, and the sound sparkled just like on the recordings. It's just that, watching these guys-- who for some reason I expected to be glamorous and cool, I guess because frontman Thomas Mars has a child with Sofia Coppola, but they totally have just an average stage presence and are vaguely continental-looking but not, like, models or anything-- it didn't feel like their songs mean anything more to them than they do to me. Which I suddenly realized isn't much: This stuff is so great for commercials and TV credits because it's best when you're not totally paying attention. The little production nuances from the recordings weren't there, of course, and the band didn't add anything new to compensate if you'd already heard the records, not even a spark of charm or personality. The lyrics, though I felt like I knew all of them, suddenly seemed like something I would never want to sing along with-- "Lisztomania/ Think less but see it grow/ Like a riot, like a riot, oh!/ I'm not easily offended/ It's not hard to let it go/ From a mess to the masses"? Does anybody genuinely have a meaningful connection with that? Mars was singing in the crowd on the second song, so even that nod to crowd interaction seemed rote, lifeless, uninspired; he didn't stop to say anything until after the fourth song, and that was only the requisite thank-yous and I've-never-been-here-befores. File under Not Phoenix's Fault: The stage lights kept shining in our eyes, so even when I could see over the tall people (it was a young crowd, but how come all the young people are ridiculously tall?) I found myself blinded. And the packed space was pretty hot, not like I hear Val Air Ballroom was for Black Keys on Sunday night or anything, but not exactly comfortable if you're finding yourself wishing you were watching old Chappelle's Show on Netflix Instant Queue or something like that. So a buddy and I retreated to listen from the bar area, where it was about 10 degrees cooler and it still sounded almost exactly like the recordings. It's just-- I wouldn't tolerate such meaningless, not-fun professionalism from any other band on the radio, so why do we put up with it from these guys? Because a bunch of smart people I like and respect say they're good? I dunno, man. The chilled-out electro-funk of "Fences" helped explain why they might be touring with Toro Y Moi, "Girlfriend" and "Signed Armistice" and "Rally" were still unobtrusively catchy, and psychedelic two-parter "Love Like a Sunset" sounded painfully boring from where I stood, but maybe they were doing something stimulating on stage that I couldn't see. The set was over in slightly more than an hour-- "1901" was the encore, natch; I'm told Mars went into the crowd again-- and I wish I'd been in bed by then. Maybe I was just grumpy from these insane thunderstorms keeping me awake the past few nights, who knows.
|Goddamn, I've got too much time on my hands.|
|Is this going to be a "thing" now?|
Keith Urban. Friday, Aug. 13. Iowa State Fair.
The Battle Royale. Saturday, Aug. 14. Vaudeville Mews.
** Richie Daggers Birthday Party with Gadema, Young Tripp, others. Saturday, Aug. 14. Vaudeville Mews.
** Vanilla Ice, with Tone Loc. Sunday, Aug. 15. Iowa State Fair.
** Tennis, with the Land of Blood and Sunshine, Maid Marian, the Seed of Something. Tuesday, Aug. 17. Vaudeville Mews.
** Little Gold. Tuesday, Aug. 17. Vaudeville Mews.
Tegan and Sara. Tuesday, Aug. 17. Hoyt Sherman Place.
Pat Benatar, with REO Speedwagon. Tuesday, Aug. 17. Iowa State Fair.
Broken Spindles. Wednesday, Aug. 18. Vaudeville Mews.
Darius Rucker. Thursday, Aug. 19. Iowa State Fair.
** Tapes 'N Tapes. Friday, Aug. 20. Vaudeville Mews.
Sugarland. Saturday, Aug. 21. Iowa State Fair.
Sheryl Crow. Sunday, Aug. 22. Iowa State Fair.
Why Make Clocks. Saturday, Aug. 28. Vaudeville Mews.
** Christopher the Conquered, with the Poison Control Center and the Atudes. Sunday, Aug. 29. Des Moines Social Club.
Canby. Sunday, Aug. 29. Vaudeville Mews.
Sarah Jaffe. Monday, Aug. 30. Vaudeville Mews.
American Idol Live Tour. Tuesday, Aug. 31. Wells Fargo Arena.
** Pavement, with the Poison Control Center. Saturday, Sept. 11. Uptown Theater, Kansas City, Mo.
Hot Hot Heat. Tuesday, Sept. 14. Vaudeville Mews.
** Best Coast, with Male Bonding. Friday, Sept. 17. Grinnell College.
All Tiny Creatures, with the Autumn Project, Blutiger Fluss. Friday, Sept. 17. Vaudeville Mews.
Maxilla Blue. Friday, Sept. 24. Vaudeville Mews.
** Scout Niblett, with the Land of Blood and Sunshine. Sunday, Sept. 26. Vaudeville Mews.
** David Dondero, with Darren Hanlon, Derek Lambert. Tuesday, Sept. 28. Vaudeville Mews.
** The Strange Boys, with Gentlemen Jesse and His Men, Natural Child, the Jitz. Friday, Oct. 1. Vaudeville Mews.
Band of Horses. Friday, Oct. 1. Val Air Ballroom.
Passion Pit. Monday, Oct. 4. Val Air Ballroom.
Joan of Arc. Thursday, Oct. 28. Vaudeville Mews.
Electric Six, with the Constellations, the Jitz. Tuesday, Nov. 2. Vaudeville Mews.