Thomas Mars is leaning into his mic stand; the stage lights behind him are glowing, giving him a radiant blue halo. "You do expect a Messiah," he sings, "You want to be European/ I would be your Bonaparte." The crowd is screaming, stretching their hands out to him -- he really could be some kind of God right now. We've all heard the hype that's been following Phoenix (Mars, guitarists Laurent Brancowitz and Christian Mazzalai and bassist Deck D'Arcy) since the release of last year's seminal Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, but packed into the swarm of fans at Showbox Sodo Saturday night, you got a firsthand sense of real magnitude -- this band is huge.The foursome, joined by a stellar touring drummer and keyboardist, kicked off the nearly two-hour set with the beautifully peppy "Lisztomania" -- and while the show was interpersed with several older tracks, including the jangly past hit, "Consolation Prizes," the evening was very much all about Wolfgang.
The quick and romantic "Lasso" and groove-happy "Fences" came early on, before Mars announced, "It's Saturday night! It's a dance party!" Mars is an ultimate frontman -- charismatic yet humble, intrepid but not obnoxious, he's got an irresistible Gallic charm about him -- he knows his songs are great, and his main interest is in presenting them to us perfectly. His stage presence is such that we don't even notice he's not playing an instrument; indeed, when the lights beam down on Brancowitz or Mazzalai, they look a bit like deer in headlights and we start to miss the effervescent attraction of Mars -- together, the band is an airtight unit, but it's clear who the showman is here.
The show was closed with a stripped down version of "Everything Is Everything," from 2004's Alphabetical, softly performed by Mars and Mazzalai, before the full band launched into Wolfgang's piece de resistance, the supercharged "1901." The guitars pulsed, the synths buzzed, and Mars sang "It's 20 seconds til last call, going hey hey hey hey hey," impeccably. And then it was over. Actually, it wasn't -- the guitars kept playing, and seconds later, Mars popped up in the back of the crowd by the sound booth and promptly crowd-surfed his way back to the stage. It was apropos, it was showy, it was epic -- the stuff great pop music is made of.