PHOENIX, Shepherd’s Bush Empire – Evening Standard, 23 April 2013

A French band who are bigger in the US than they are in the UK, Phoenix have taken a roundabout route to arrive in London promoting their fifth album on the day of its release.

For surprise at least, the quartet couldn’t hope to match their set at the major Californian festival Coachella earlier this month. There, headlining alongside Blur and The Stone Roses, they performed a medley of R Kelly hits with the great R&B loverman himself.

Here, eyes still boggled at the climactic sight of singer Thomas Mars climbing from the stalls over the heads of fans onto the balcony, then crowdsurfing back, during their galloping new single Entertainment. That’s entertainment indeed.

This triumph could have gone another way. Two songs in, a technical hitch meant that Mars was forced to sing the next two with just Laurent Brancowitz’s guitar for accompaniment. It meant a welcome airing of Playground Love, a ballad by their friends Air written for Sofia Coppola’s film The Virgin Suicides. Coppola is Mars’s wife. These connections ought to have helped Phoenix more – Brancowitz also used to be in the band Darlin’ with Daft Punk, yet his group’s comeback now threatens to be overshadowed by the imminent return of that robotic dance duo.

That would be a shame, for the new songs aired here were a genuine thrill, overloaded with synthesizers and bursting with melody. Bankrupt!, the new album’s title track, turned a slow-burning instrumental into a psychedelic happening with coloured strobes and intersecting shafts of white light. Drakkar Noir’s circling synths and pounding drums were another highlight.

Sometimes anaemic on record, older favourites including Lisztomania, 1901 and Consolation Prizes were loud enough here to suggest they have become worthy festival headliners. Mars clambered back to the stage but won’t come back down to earth for a long while.