Thomas Mars is quietly one of the coolest guys in music, or at least on paper he is. That's definitely not intended as a dig at Mr. Mars, if you look at his life-resume, its pretty damn cool. He's married to Sofia Coppola (the daughter of The Godfather of all film), and he's French. Granted, that's not the most involved list of reasons why Thomas Mars might be cooler than say, Chad Kroeger, but realistically, it is.
Sometimes all it takes is marrying one of the best art haus directors in Hollywood and a bit of Parisian flair to qualify one as cool. So, Mars hits on all marks.
Anyway, I'm not really sure why I'm choosing to use Thomas Mars as a long and peculiar lede for the recap, so I figure it may be best to just head into a brief recap of France's premier American-friendly discoteque group, Phoenix.
With a refreshing bout of self-awareness, Phoenix took the stage following an exceptional Whitney opening set, sauntering onto the hallowed Mother Church stage while Hank's "I'm So Lonesome I Could Cry" played over the PA.
It had been roughly six years since the last time I had seen Phoenix (excluding Shaky Knees 2017 the night before), at Vanderbilt's Rites of Spring. Their Ryman set was all but a total 180 (not in a bad to good way, but rather a good to even better way). Where Thomas was bounding all about the Rites of Spring stage in 2011, he assumed a more reserved persona at the Ryman. Was it out of reverence? We may never know, as this will likely be the only time Phoenix performs at the House that Country Music built. They'll simply be too big.
As for the rest of the show, Mars' slightly reticent nature let Deck D'Arcy, Christian Mazzalai, Laurent Brancowitz, and the band's touring members take center stage. The most entertaining of the bunch has to be Brancowitz, the one time Beach Boys style band member of Daft Punk's Thomas Bangalter and Guy-Manuel de Homem-Christo turned lead guitarist.
He retains a relatively petrified look during every show, that quickly turns into self-amusement with whatever riff or lick he might be running through at any given moment. Brancowitz basically shifted between seeing the ghost of Patsy Cline and a countless riches with each hammer on and off.
Anyway, the coup de gras of Phoenix's Ryman set was by far and away their stage flooring. Originally intended as a backdrop, the apparatus was simply too big to be propped up behind the band on stage. So, rather than waste an opportunity to showcase their $5,000 tour investment, they Macgyvered themselves a new stage floor and projected the dynamic light show on the balcony walls. Sunken cost disaster averted.
The rest of the show was just about what you would anticipate - exceptional. It was an effective repertory of all the Phoenix "classic" as well as the new tracks off of Ti Amo, And then there was Mars, who managed to maintain his calm composure whilst sauntering amongst and over the Mother Church pews. Ever the enigma, ever the front man, and damn is he cool.