Better than looks
.....Do you remember when 21 years was old?
Phoenix - Countdown
"This town has become nothing more than a trailer park in the middle of the woods"
Moaned the balding, fat middle aged man standing next to me. He was gesturing to a group of what looked like frat/sorority types as envisioned by a basic cable wardrobe consultant. They had established a routine where the men in the group would stand in a makeshift circle and the six girls would dance drunkenly in the center.
It had been a long time since I had been to a sold out show at the Crystal Ballroom, well, any sold out show for that matter. After thinking for a few minutes while waiting for the band to start I realized it had been since the pair of Sleater-Kinney farewell shows in 2006. My wife and I had dutifully waited for hours and secured premium spots standing on the benches that lined the side wall on the all-ages side (pro-tip there, for ya).
This was different.
My buddy Colby and I have gotten old enough to where we don't have the patience for long lines and as a result we were in a much less desirable location than at Ted Leo last Saturday. We were routinely bumped, prodded, "excuse me"-d and the like. In terms of the performance it was a sold B+ show with some truly transcendent moments, the sort of which made me glad to be there, and glad to see shows in general.
The band played the entirety of Bankrupt! their soon to be released record, and played all of their breakout album Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix. I was disappointed by the last of any older material aside from an incredible version of LONG DISTANCE CALL, perhaps my favorite moment of the show. Back in 2009 I fell in love with Wolfgang upon first listen, it leaked about a month before its scheduled release (remember when this used to happen with records?) and although I knew it would win them some additional fans, I had no idea they would have massive radioplay and Coachella headlining sets in their near future. I missed seeing them on the Wolfgang tour so it was great to hear all of those songs in a live setting.
Its a common trope among critics and serious music fans to reject bands that find a mainstream audience - its even more common for longtime appreciators to reject the new mainstream fans that attach themselves to an act of the moment. I'm assuming that the large man next to me was doing this while also referring to some of the recent changes our town has gone through (and really, in some ways isn't Portland just like an indie band that just had a big radio hit?) After the show I was checking Twitter for reviews and I wasn't surprised to see that this was a common theme among many of the local critics that attended the show as well. Whoever runs the usually excellent Local Cut blog's twitter account snarkily wondered if people at the show listening to "Listomania" realized they were singing along to a song about composer Franz List (this was after they complained about Phoenix having a lack of personality - what were you expecting? Slippery When Wet era Bon Jovi?) At this point I'm much less interested in the "unworthy" masses that may not grasp the more subtle, sophisticated aspects of bands like Phoenix and more interested in the fact that a band like Phoenix - French, understated, vibrant and creative - can get to the point where they have an opportunity to play for a wider audience than ever seemed possible just 5 years ago.
I was thinking about all of this while walking to my car, I had parked all the way up on 13th and Salmon that evening. I saw a group of what looked to be 15-16 year olds huddled together, looking confused.
"How do you get back to Beaverton from here?"
The young girl asked me.
"Where in Beaverton are you guys going?", I asked.
I cordially guided them back to highway 26 and sent them on their way.
"That guy was really cool", one of them (a young man in a Ramones shirt) pointed out as I walked towards my car.
Driving home I thought about the pack of teenagers and realized that at some point in the distant future my son Dylan would be heading to his first show. I would be so proud if he went to see a band like Phoenix. Also swirling through my head was the stripped down version of "Countdown" that began the encore set, its haunting melody and refrain of "Better than looks...." taking center stage.
Hearing that song live in such a fitting arrangement was a special moment for me.
Most of the crowd talked over it.
It didn't matter.