My story starts on a rainy April Sunday, sitting in a coffee shop, not studying for exams. My friend from the impact (and also live music aficionado) and I were having a deep chat that led to the subject of my future study abroad in Spain and anticipation of leaving for friends and family for the whole summer. Some extreme sappiness ensued but after shaking off our silly sentiments (exam stress induced, I’m sure) she suggested I attend Primavera Sound, a music festival in Barcelona that Phoenix was to be headlining
The problem: it was happening two days after I would arrive. After some frantic Google mapping, I discovered the feat of traveling across a foreign country right after a 12-hour journey would be close to impossible. I felt sorry for myself for a good 10 minutes while I watched their line-up video and stalked their website, but eventually got over it and got back to trying to study—and for the most part, totally forgot about it.
Fast forward four months and I’m back in East Lansing sitting in the same coffee shop, coincidentally not doing my homework, when I get a message notifying me of the possibility of getting tickets to see Phoenix at Eastern Michigan University on Sunday, September 29.
This was golden, considering the ugly truth that just the week before I resorted to texting a local radio station to win tickets, only to receive a “better luck next time” response and the loss of my dignity. So when I finally did get tickets to go the show, my heart was bursting.
Yes! 6ish months of longing and it was finally happening.
After spending the day of the show listening to all five of Phoenix’s albums (sorry spotify followers) and not doing my 1000 word essay for Spanish (sorry for this common theme) my equally as pumped friend and I we were off!
Destination: Ypsi. Goal: be in the presence of some dreamy Frenchmen and dance a lot.
Walking into the EMU convocation center we were greeted by the thrashing sounds of the British rock band, The Vaccines and a lot of bros wearing colorful tank tops. After spending the summer seeing live music at grungy dive bars in Europe, walking into the place that my roommate had her High School graduation ceremony in just felt very strange. We tried to make the best of the situation, racing to find our seats only to be scolded by an older usher directing us to our correct section.
When we did get to our seats, everyone around us was sitting and it kind of felt weird. The convocation center was huge, so the crowd—a decent bunch—seemed small. Which was also a little puzzling considering the magnitude of the euro band’s influence. Unfortunately, the majority of my peers didn’t seem that into The Vaccines set, which bummed me out because I do truly enjoy their music. But who doesn’t feel a little self-conscious being the only one jamming hard to a band? Before I had a chance to slap myself in the face and just get into their music, their set was over.
After feeling slightly awkward about the vibe of the venue and ogling at the man dressed like a storm trooper for the duration of the break, I instantly got butterflies when the lights went down and the opening chords of Entertainment echoed through the room. The tell tale sign of a groupie, I was on my feet, squealing with excitement as the electric guitar hit the familiar notes of the popular single off their latest album.
The lights didn’t stay down for long, though. The minute the band got into their grove, the room was graced with a rainbow of hues bathing us in bright shades of orange, pink and red. To be honest, this was the most noteworthy and exciting part of their show for me. As much as I dug the smooth and seamless transitions between songs like ‘Dakkar Nior’ and ‘Cholorform’, the visuals were on point and made the performance unique. Especially the video and photo montages that played behind instrumental songs like ‘Bankrupt!’.
Having released a grand total of five albums, 2000’s “United“, 2004’s “Alphabetical”, 2006’s “It’s Never Been Like That”, 2009’s “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix” and 2013’s “Bankrupt!”, the band played a varied mix of their newer and older stuff..but mostly focusing on their last two releases.
It seemed each song flowed easily and played well off the previous one. Noticeable enhancements and changes to the live set also really made the concert super exciting to be at and totally worth missing the season finale of Breaking Bad. I relish when bands change up their tunes live, and this is exactly what Phoenix did—successfully making me enjoy their live version over their recording.
The bands lead singer, Thomas Mars, seemed to either really take to the audience on the floor or want to shake them up a bit, considering he crowd surfed multiple times and even went into the crowd during their stripped-down performance of ‘Countdown’.
At that point during the show, our dance moves made an appearance and we were getting down. The songs just seemed to hit at all the right moments and this really loosened up the crowd. Phoenix’s electro-rock sound was conducive to some big smiles and lip-synching from the people around us, even if some of them were sitting.
A two-song encore ended the night with the light show hitting its climax and some blown kisses from the band, even though some people snuck out early, presumably to beat the traffic or rush home to their DVR’s.
After spending close to 6 months legitimately thinking about seeing this band and taking deliberate action towards having the opportunity to go to their live show, it made me kind of sad that some people treated the show as something that comes along any other Sunday night. I felt like stomping my foot on the bleachers and yelling out to the leavers “Haven’t you ever been to a concert before, it’s not really over!” or “Stop worrying about traffic! We’re in Ypsilanti, Michigan!”
But on the drive home, while eating leftover sweet potatoes fries, geeking out about the production and trying to decipher just what the hell they lyrics of “Lisztomania” are (singing off key I should mention), I had an epiphany.
Instead of feeling sour about how some people may have felt or not felt about the concert, I decided that music is really only powerful because of how it makes YOU feel. Nobody likes something that is forced on them and absolutely no one listens to music because they have to. Why should I be affected by how full the venue was, and really, why should I care what the dorks who sat down behind me for the whole show thought about my equally dorky dance moves?
In the end, it’s about the experience, the passion it induced and how the music affected your brain. Everyone gets out of it something different, and no one can take that away from you.
Written by Gabriela Saldivia
Photos by Mars Woodbury