“It all started in early (more like late, really) September.”
After watching dozens of videos on YouTube, live streaming their festival sets (remember Coachella 2013, when they brought out R. Kelly for the encore? Yeah, I wasn't ready for that either), reading countless interviews and discovering things I really shouldn’t know about via Tumblr and Reddit, I was finally going to see my favorite band in the world.
And no, I’m not talking about Coldplay. But I guess the perfect way to describe how I feel about Phoenix is how thousands of fans feel about Coldplay.
Most people were probably introduced to Phoenix via 1901 or Lisztomania, but I discovered the band on an episode of The OC (my introduction to indie music in the early 2000’s). I heard 'Run Run Run' (track played while Summer was berating Seth about Alex dumping him), and had to go to musicfromtheoc.com to figure out what the title and who the artist was. The show played another Phoenix song towards the end of the second season, 'Love For Granted' (during The O.Sea prom while Zach was dancing with Summer and complaining about Seth who was completely ignoring the talking points in his meeting with George Lucas) in the same episode where Coldplay's Fix You made its TV debut.
Their music has taken me through a break up ('If I Ever Feel Better', 'Consolation Prizes'), 'Long Distance Call(s)', 'Summer Days' in the city and bad decisions ('Chloroform', 'Rome', 'If It’s Not With You'). I could find a Phoenix song for every event in my life. It wasn’t the kind of obsession that you had when you were younger with boy bands (or like now, with Harry Styles, Chris Evans or Riz Ahmed); you never wanted any of them to be your boyfriend. It was more of seeing how they were as a band ("We grew up with the idea that a band is 4 brains, rather than 4 egos."), how they worked together ("It's a very special band, it's not like, one leader or two leaders, like Led Zepellin or The Beatles or Oasis. New bands, there's always leaders or composers or writers. In Phoenix, no!"), and how they interacted with each other – it was more like they were in some secret club, which you found yourself wanting to be a part of.
I am forever fascinated by the way they speak and the way they would say certain things in regular conversations, like how their lyrics were the way they were because of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Everything they say just seems philosophical. Sometimes, I’m not sure if they’re just Lost in Translation or that’s really what they meant to say.
I remember watching this Phoenix documentary called From a Mess to the Masses. Some of it was in French, without English subtitles, but at this point, I’ve watched so many videos in that language that I could figure out some of the words. It was about their journey from French schoolboys to Grammy-award winning musicians, selling out arenas and performing at Madison Square Garden, a.k.a. that one time they brought out Daft Punk (former band mates of Branco) onstage.
Bandwagon made the announcement about their concert in late September. (I saw the post via their Facebook page. Yes, I've been a loyal reader since 2013, since they took a photo of me and my friend at the barrier waiting for The Killers to play at the Singapore Grand Prix.) I told my fellow fangirl friend Toni about it and, of course, we made plans to watch. We’ve been watching gigs together since we moved to Singapore in 2012, and this was definitely something we couldn’t miss.
I don’t trust other people to book seated tickets for me, so there was no way I was going to let someone else take control of my Phoenix fate. Before tickets went on sale, I checked out the venue seat plan and mapped out the best seats our debit cards could get us (along with a couple of alternatives, because one must always have back-up plans). I filed for half day leave that day because ticket selling started at 9 AM. I was awake by 7 AM, setting up my laptop, opening multiple browsers and taking note of my debit card details. I remember having mini anxiety attacks by 8 AM. I was very stressed about not being able to get good seats.
9 AM came and I managed to book three seats – C1, C2, C3 – which I initially thought was third row, but then realized that they were actually front row seats! The whole ordeal only took 4 minutes as indicated in my booking record but it felt so much longer than that. After I got over being able to book great seats, I noticed that the ones we got were in my initials: CCC. I know that sounds crazy to other people but, to me, it was like, this is it. This is fate. This part is what Branco calls, “the universe resonates.”
So we already got front row tickets, but being the Phoenix-starved fan I was, I wanted more. Every day, I’d check for meet and greet opportunities. I came across this Facebook contest on the venue’s page called "Make A Smart Guess" where all you had to do was guess how many light bulbs there were in the theatre. It was a multiple-choice question and the winner would be the first one to answer in the comments correctly. I managed to guess it right and won two tickets! I kept asking if they knew if it came with meet and greet passes, and they said they’d let me know when they found out, as well as where the seats would be.
Streaming was still new then, but I was subscribed to Deezer and I saw a MEET AND GREET contest for Phoenix. Made sense: French brand, French band. So what we had to do was post a photo on Instagram, caption it with a Phoenix song/lyric and tag Deezer. The contest bit became a little complicated, because my friend also joined it and I unreasonably got wired up about it. We ended up fighting over it, with me mostly doing the fighting (Toni, I’m still sorry about this point in our friendship). I eventually won the contest and, of course, there was no one else I would have brought but her, so we went together, and everything was right in the world again.
Leading up to the concert, I watched Phoenix on YouTube more often, listened to their discography plus live versions on my daily commute, and watched Sofia Coppola movies (Thomas Mars sang 'Playground Love' with Air for The Virgin Suicides Soundtrack and was in the film as well; Bill Murray and Scarlett Johansson danced to 'Too Young' in Lost in Translation; the band made a cameo appearance in Marie Antoinette as French court musicians; and provided the musical score for Somewhere).
A week before the show, I had brunch with my roommate (the one I forced to watch Phoenix with me; she did not regret it), and I saw a nail salon beside the cafe. I thought to myself, "OMG, I’m gonna have my nails painted in Phoenix album covers!" I had to be realistic as I only had two thumbs and they had five albums, so I chose Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix and Bankrupt!. The other nails were painted in the colors of their rainbow logo. (Confession: This idea was inspired by music video director Kinga Burza's Instagram post of her Coachella 2013 Bankrupt! nail art.)
Our pre-ordered Phoenix jackets, from way back in July (before the concert announcement was made) arrived just a week before the show.
Days ahead of the concert, I found myself in a crafts store buying materials for class, saw some wooden letters and foam, and decided to make them a poster. I went full-on glitter.
At this point, I had a total of five Phoenix tickets to myself: one I purchased, two I won from the venue contest and another pair from the meet and greet. I had no idea what kind the other seats were, but I told friends that they should be at the venue on the day, so they could use my tickets. Someone asked me why I didn’t just sell them – they were a little over 100 SGD each – and I said that I believed in good karma. I may never win again if I made money off the tickets. (This was a good call because I won another contest that year, a Bandwagon giveaway for a Beatles CD (!), and another one where I got to meet Bombay Bicycle Club.)
The show was on a Wednesday night and the meet and greet was to take place around 6 PM, a few hours before the show. My friend Toni and I didn’t go to work that day (DUH, we’re sorry children). We were at the venue by 2 PM to have late lunch/early dinner, but we could barely eat because we were about to have the best night of our fangirl lives.
We arrived at the venue with a couple of other winners. I heard two fans who drove in from Malaysia whisper, "OMG, the girls are so prepared!" And we were. We were both wearing our Phoenix jackets, mine in black, my friend’s in white, and we were armed with merch for them to sign, and extra markers for anyone else who needed them. The promoter, Dan and Sya from the record label, took us backstage to where the band was waiting.
The band was lined up in a row, like a very tall, very French welcoming committee, starting with Branco, Chris, Deck and Thomas. It was like one of those family events where you were awkwardly being introduced to very important people and you’d shake their hand, but instead of handshakes, they’d give you hugs and warm greetings in English with very strong/adorable French accents. I’m not sure in what order things happened but everyone was talking to someone else. I remember blurting out to the band that I was Filipino and that they were bound to love their Manila show a week later.
Whenever I’m nervous, I tend to ramble on. So I started asking everyone all sorts of things.
I asked Thomas Mars why he signed his autograph with a star at the end and he said he got that from Michael Jackson’s signature ( I checked, because Google is my friend; it was semi-accurate).
Branco noticed my nails and called everyone to look at it. I think they thought I made it myself, and I was too flustered and they kept saying, “Fantastique, creatif, magnifique!” (Sorry, credit goes to my nail artist whose name I could neither spell or pronounce, but I love with all my arte!)
Chris asked me to go to one side so he can take a photo of my album thumbs along with the poster I made for them.
Deck was asking me if I was a student and I said, "No, I’m old. I actually teach preschool." And he said, “Ah! You know, my mama was a teacher. Teachers are the best [people].”
The girl from the label (who volunteered to take our photos with my Blackberry) said, "Okay, guys. It's time to go!" but Deck was still signing a CD for my brother. I said, "Oh, they said we should go. It's okay if we don't finish." He replied, while taking his time signing the album cover, “Don’t worry. They will wait. It’s okay.”
A bunch of blurry group photos were taken, our jackets were signed, Thomas photobombed Toni’s Instagram photo, I took out my phone and Thomas yelled, “Selfie!” and took selfies with everyone else! What seemed like forever actually just lasted under 20 minutes.
We walked out of the venue still reeling from the surrealness of it all. We sat down on a bench and went on Instagram to post our photos, when, TADA! I saw my thumbs on Phoenix' Instagram page! Chris, who took what seemed like a gazillion photos of my thumbs and poster, uploaded the photo on Instagram. Still not sure if it was my finest or most embarrassing fangirl moment.
Along with the meet and greet passes, I won box seats (which I guess are great for a view, but not if you wanted to be in the middle of all the action). I gave all the tickets away to friends who had no idea who Phoenix were, but walked out of the concert as fans.
We were inside the theatre and sat down on our assigned seats. I asked security if we could stand by the barrier in front of us, and he said yes. I asked when we could stand. He said as soon as the lights went out. As soon as they did, we scrambled to the front, the lights turned red and the band – Laurent Brancowitz, Thomas Mars, Deck D'arcy, Christian Mazzalai, along with their keyboard player Robin Coudert and drummer Thomas Hedlund – walked onstage.
I was nearest Deck and Christian on their side of the stage. They started with 'Entertainment,' the opener of their album Bankrupt, then proceeded to my favorite song off Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix, 'Lasso'. I was waiting for the part where he would change the lyrics from the recording, and I knew that Thomas Mars would stand on the barriers while singing the opening verses (what I didn't know was that he'd do it within inches of where I was), causing everyone to scream their heads off. I have terrible videos of this where you couldn’t see anything but you could hear all the screaming.
The played their set list consistently as the rest of the tour. I still can’t choose a favorite, but 'Sunskrupt!' (Bankrupt!, Love Like A Sunset I and II) was something I was really looking forward to hearing live.
Towards the end of the show, Thomas dived into the crowd, crowdsurfed his way back AND ASKED EVERYONE TO GET ONSTAGE. My friend Toni was blessed with akyat-bakod (climbing over 'Fences') skills; I was not, so she told the bouncer to, “Carry my friend! Carry my friend!” and, bless his kind soul, he did. It was the same guy I kept talking to before the show started, so I guess he figured he better help the tiny girl out because she seemed insane. Toni and I ended up near Deck and Chris. Deck said to me, "It's you again!" I was half-embarrassed, half-elated that he remembered and probably thought that I was some sort of stalker.
The band started leaving the stage one by one, and soon we were left onstage with the rest of the fans and the realization that what just happened really just happened and that we were still onstage. We went down (by the steps this time), walked out, and found out that people were apparently staring at us, pointing at our signed jackets, but we couldn’t care less because we just saw our favorite band in the world, and we had the best day of our fangirl lives.
It's been three years since I last saw Phoenix live, and in a little over three months time, I'll be seeing them again when they come back to Asia in August. My friend Toni and I no longer live in the same city, but from time to time we meet up in music festivals. This time, we're heading to Jakarta for We The Fest 2017 to watch Phoenix together once more.
I also can't wait to see Phoenix in Manila when they return. Nothing beats Filipino concert crowds.
* This event was thankfully not included in Thomas Mars' awkward fan encounters.
Phoenix returns to Asia this August: Sunny Side Up Festival in Bali (8/11-12), We The Fest in Jakarta (8/11-13), Good Vibes Festival in Malaysia (8/12-13), headlining concerts in Manila (8/15) and Bangkok (8/17) and Summer Sonic in Japan (8/19-20).