Phoenix with Dogs Die in Hot Cars at the Opera House (735 Queen East), Friday (April 8). $17.50. 416-466-0313. Rating: NNNNN
At music festivals like South by Southwest, the highlights that stick with you for weeks and months after are the surprises, the shows you never counted on being exciting or even good. This year in Austin it was Parisian long shots Phoenix who defied the odds.
Not that Phoenix are a terrible group. Quite the contrary - on their studio albums United (Virgin) and Alphabetical (Virgin), the Gallic groovers put together snappy tunes in a wide range of styles from daft French house to chiming alt-country. But whether or not they can pull it off onstage is another question.
Even the live album, Live! Thirty Days Ago (Source/Virgin), released a few months back - presumably to clear up speculation about their ability to perform like a real band - still left some doubt because the tracks were culled from five different Scandinavian tour dates last year rather than one amazing gig.
So imagine my shock when sickly-looking Phoenix frontman Thomas Mars crept up to the microphone at Antone's and his crew didn't putter and falter behind him. Instead, they rocked out.
"We actually started as a studio group," explains Mars on a cellphone. "Our local music scene in France was made up entirely of live bands, and we didn't want to be like everyone else. Besides, all the artists who inspired us, like the Beatles and Beach Boys, were really studio groups, so we decided from the beginning that we'd never play any shows.
"We wanted to stay in the basement where we could write and record our music and then create a label to release it ourselves. But the more we rehearsed, the more we enjoyed playing together as a band. Eventually, we were comfortable enough with the idea of performing to do some shows. And now that we've done some touring, we've seen how it can be very pleasant."
However, on their recent tour through the U.S., Phoenix have also seen the distasteful side of being on the road in a country that isn't always hospitable to foreign visitors, particularly those of a French persuasion.
"Actually, the people in Texas were very welcoming. For some reason it was mostly in Los Angeles and New York that people acted aggressive toward us for being French.
"We were at a club in Brooklyn where some guys overheard us speaking French and began to spit on us from the floor above. Our drummer got into a fight with one of them, but fortunately we managed to escape. It was a nightmare."
Apparently, their problems aren't entirely over.
"Now there's also this very weird thing where people are being excessively nice to us because we are from France - as if to somehow compensate. It's really strange, even embarrassing.
"I'm really looking forward to coming to Canada. Already I'm getting the feeling that it will be a better place for us." email@example.com