Beck and Phoenix Deliver Joyous Indie Rock Nostalgia in Joint Summer Tour: Concert Review

From the Technicolor merch to the staging to the setlist, everything about Phoenix and Beck’s joint headlining Summer Odyssey Tour was breezy during a New York stop at Madison Square Garden on Saturday. The strictly fun vibe was best illustrated by the featherweight “Odyssey,” a new tune the two acts released this year to commemorate the trek (sample lyrics: “We’ll fall into the ocean / I’ll be there / On an odyssey in the sun”).

Phoenix played a show heavy on the group’s breakout album, 2009’s “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix,” and newest record, last year’s “Alpha Zulu,” leading multiple singalongs about posh people falling in love. From millennial-approved party starters “Lisztomania” and “1901” to more reflective moments like live highlight “Sunskrupt!,” which mashes up “Bankrupt!” and “Love Like a Sunset” into a lengthy, trippy jam, Phoenix kept things moving. Even their newest songs recall the sugary highs of their popular work, so there was never a mass exodus to the beer line. The French group’s warm and synthy pop was anchored by the always-ferocious drumming of Thomas Hedlund, whose thunderous work kept the band in the pocket and fans dancing. Additionally, there was plenty of visual stimulation, from a barrage of nearly blinding strobe lights to the crowdsurfing of singer Thomas Mars.

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Such a high-energy act seemed hard to follow, but Beck and his longtime backing band bounded onstage, turbocharged and ready to play a hit-filled set that ignored his most recent record, 2019’s “Hyperspace.” The first stretch of songs focused on his career-defining fifth LP, 1996’s “Odelay,” from the dirty guitar roar of opener “Devils Haircut” to the retro-cool “The New Pollution,” and radio hits “Mixed Bizness” and “Girl.” Any zigzagging look at Beck’s career is liable to cause whiplash, as he casually toggled through modes such as ironic rapper, serious guitar guy, pop savant and reflective acoustic artist. Yet the genre blend is pure Beck, and his infectious energy was the furnace behind all of the songs. In leather pants and sporting a flashy pair of dancing shoes, the singer busted out moves straight from the James Brown and Prince playbooks, getting as funky as possible to “Qué Onda Guero” and “Debra.”

Near the end, Phoenix and Weyes Blood, the evening’s opener, came onstage to play a peppy arrangement of Beck’s 2002 “Sea Change” tearjerker “Lost Cause,” adding a strange sense of pleasure to a wholly depressing classic. But next, the musicians started up “Odyssey,” with the audience happy to resume bopping around versus hearing a challenging night of music from either act. Beck ended the evening with “Odelay” classic “Where It’s At,” sending balloons into the crowd during the infectious “Bottles and cans / Just clap your hands” refrain. Although Beck made his name as a musical chameleon, it was a treat to see him enjoying himself in comfort food mode, getting a kick out of moving people and tapping into nostalgia.

Pictured, left to right: Beck, Phoenix frontman Thomas Mars and opener Weyes Blood

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