‘Total immersion into The Phoenix Foundation’s music will always be time well spent,’ says Nick Bollinger in NZ Listener.
It takes two
Only a double album can do the Phoenix Foundation justice.
By Nick Bollinger
16th May, 2013
Attention spans may be shrinking and the long-playing record headed for extinction, but the Phoenix Foundation have defied the trend and made a double vinyl album. You can get it on CD, too, but even that is divided into two discs.
Actually, Fandango is not much longer than the typical single CD of the mid-90s, when filling every megabyte of disc space was routinely mistaken for giving good value. What the two discs do, though, is prescribe a structure for listening. The end of the first set is an invitation to have a stretch, make a cup of tea or pour a wine and settle in for the second half. It works a treat.
The long form is established from the opening track, which takes its time building from an overture of synth drones and shimmering guitar chords into an Under My Thumb-like riff and a typically droll lyric, in which the perpetual scrubbing of mould in a damp urban dwelling (I smell Aro Valley) suggests a metaphor for the human condition.
It is an early reminder that the Phoenix Foundation have, in their frontmen Samuel Scott and Lukasz Buda, a couple of the wittiest wordsmiths currently working. In these songs, you will find their uniquely skewed views on a range of matters, including evolution, ecology, spirituality and social intercourse.
Occasionally, they tip over into absurdity, and when they sing lines like “Your uncle Dansey has gone mental/and you find it’s inconsequential/to point out the differential” it makes me wonder if one of them had a rhyming dictionary fall on his head when he was a child.
But the playful lyricism is broken up with epic instrumental passages, as fundamental in their own way as the verses and choruses. This has always been part of their style, and as the group have grown they have simply gone deeper into the details.
Over the decade since their debut, multi-instrumentalists Scott, Buda and Conrad Wedde and percussionist Will Ricketts have refined their use of harmonic and rhythmic colour to almost symphonic levels, and with new recruits drummer Chris O’Connor and bassist Tom Callwood, both from jazz backgrounds, the textures are more finely wrought than ever.
Even the two long and largely wordless pieces that close the respective discs are never static, constantly expanding and contracting like universes in quick time.
Its unfashionable length aside, there are moments when Fandango intersects with the zeitgeist, almost in spite of itself. In a year in which David Bowie made a big comeback, his influence on this band has never been more apparent. With bumping basslines and brash analogue synths, the dance-friendly Walls and Buda’s beautifully sung The Captain both nod to Bowie’s fertile Berlin period. And at a time when an 80s revival appears to be in full swing, the Phoenix’s love of lush keyboards and retro drum programs has never seemed more modish.
Of course, that doesn’t account for the quaint sidestep into 70s yacht rock – complete with flute solo – in Sideways Glance, the Vangelis variations of the 18-minute Friendly Society or Meddle-era Pink Floydisms throughout.
But it is this fearless following of instincts – this mixing of the high, the low, the sublime and the ridiculous – that makes the Phoenix Foundation that rare band in whose music 78 minutes of total immersion – give or take a tea break – will always be time well spent.
Straight from Rough Trade store, three members of The Phoenix Foundation: Sam, Luke and Chris went to Sebright Arms to help their friend Lawrence Arabia out.
James is on his solo tour at the moment (check his dates out), but luckily the schedules allowed 3/6 of TPF to join him and make one evening very special.
First, Lawrence Arabia performed a few songs alone. He caught a great contact with the audience from the very beginning. His songs were funny and witty. He also said he was ready to take any song requests and there were few. For Bisexual, he asked us to join him in playing the mouth trumpet. In The Beautiful Young Crew we already formed a nice choir.
Then Sam, Luke and Becca (cello) were invited on stage and they played Bicycle Ride. Sam showed his salt and crisps shakers he brought from home, but he decided to eat his percussion at the end of the show, because he hadn’t had dinner.
Chris came on stage for the next song.
and one more song with ‘sweet’ in the title:
Then followed The 03 and after that they played a song that Sam, Luke and Chris had never played before. Luke said, ‘This is two chords! What can go wrong?’ and Sam replied, ‘We can play the wrong chords.’
The video starts when they wonder if Chris had ever heard the song they were about to play. Luke had asked him if he wanted to listen to it, but Chris said, ‘No, it would be cheating!’
Hilarity ensues. We all had such a great fun!
Dalston Junction Rap
The last song before an encore was I’ve Smoked Too Much.
Here, the video starts when they come back from a ‘back stage room’ which was a dusty curtain in the same room.
Fine Old Friends
It was really unforgettable concert and I enjoyed watching this friendly collaboration between Lawrence Arabia and The Phoenix Foundation for three days in a row.
May 14, 2013
It was the best show of The Phoenix Foundation I’ve ever seen, and I’ve seen quite a few already. I think it was the perfect combination of older songs (which sounded like new with Chris, the new drummer) and the songs from Fandango, which were utterly brilliant. The band was in a great form and playing psychedelic Friendly Society as an encore made me feel as if I was at a concert in the 70s.
Here’s the setlist and what I managed to record this time round,
1. Black Mould
2. Bitte Bitte
3. Thames Soup
4. Damn The River
5. Gandalf (one of my favourite songs on Happy Ending and ever)
7. Modern Rock (feat. Lawrence Arabia in backing vocals)
8. Morning Riff (I wish I recorded this one too! Luke’s guitar is amazing in this song)
9. Inside Me Dead
10. Corale (love this one on the album and adore it live)
11. 40 Years
12. Orange and Mango (feat. dancing, falling down on stage, roly-polies and cable tangling up)
14. Sideways Glance
15. Friendly Society (this song proves that music critics can be wrong, just watch it. My camera died soon before the song was over; I lost maybe 2-3 min.)
I took my sister and her fiancee to this concert. After the show, they disappeared for a moment and showed up back again happy with their own copy of Fandango CD purchased at the merch table. That’s the reaction I expect to see at every TPF show!
“Big in New Zealand” doesn’t carry much marketing clout, but it sums up the state of things for the Phoenix Foundation. Now five albums old, this Wellington sextet are award-winning rock royalty at home, and have fansites tracking every move. In the UK, where they’re wafting through their second tour, it’s a little different. Tonight’s venue is so small the band are almost literally in each other’s faces, and the audience are close enough to touch the impressive bank of effects pedals at the two guitarists’ feet.
This is one occasion, though, when the size of a room is immaterial. Wedged between instruments and mic stands, the Phoenix Foundation are in a world of their own. Starting earlier than advertised – it’s the venue’s “draconian laws”, complains co-vocalist Luke Buda – they sink into a trippy, atmospheric set that feels half-improvised. Clearly, it’s not: the guitar whorls and keyboard washes are similar to what you hear on the current album, Fandango, but the six musicians play with shoegazing aimlessness. Buffalo starts jauntily but devolves into languid repetitions of the couplet, “I’m on the sea floor, I am the mammal you adore”, and during Morning Riff singer-guitarist Sam Scott squeezes over to a keyboard and gets stuck into space-rock swooshing. Ramping up the sensation that we’re watching a self-indulgent but very seductive jam, Buda sinks to his knees and closes his eyes for long moments.
Scott promises Friendly Society will be “pretty weird”, and it is: 15 minutes long and divided into a pitch-shifting psychedelic suite and a pile-driving rock-out, it’s attention-grabbing. But overt weirdness isn’t the band’s selling point – what makes this show compelling is a more subtle dreaminess that places them, in the best possible way, on the spectrum between Spinal Tap’s Jazz Odyssey and David Lynch.
That was my first time when I saw The Phoenix Foundation live during this tour. I went to Brighton earlier on Friday, because I wanted to see the city I hadn’t visited before. I didn’t know how long my new camera battery can last, so after taking pictures during the day, I was able to record just four videos in the evening before the battery went flat.
First played a local band. I feel ashamed, because I don’t know their name and they were very good. I think Quentin Tarantino would love to use their music in one of his films. The room was slowly getting filled up during Lawrence Arabia’s show. He started with the first song from Fabulous/Arabia album Unlimited Buffet, The Ballad Of State Highway 1. I heard this song live before about two years ago with a full band and it was very funky. This version performed just by James on his guitar sounded nostalgic and more like a ballad. For the next song, Bicycle Riding, he invited Sam and Luke for the backing vocals. After few minutes into the song, the stage lights went off and it was as dark as in a cellar. No-one could see anything! They kept on playing until some lights came back I think by the end of the song or at the beginning of the next one (it was still pretty dark as you can see in the videos), but it would be funny if everyone sneaked out and the band found themselves playing to an empty room. Everyone stayed inside, though, because Lawrence Arabia was putting up a great show.
For Sweet Ingredients, Chris sat down behind the drums. And here are other three songs they played together. For this purpose, Lawrence Arabia and 3/6 of The Phoenix Foundation created a new band, Lawrence Arabia’s Cry For Help.
The 03 (from The Sparrow)
Sweet Dissatisfaction (a new song!)
I’ve Smoked Too Much (from Chant Darling)
The atmosphere was still very intimate, when The Phoenix Foundation came on stage after a short break. Unfortunately, this is the only video of them I got from that evening.
The rest of the setlist presented below:
2. Bitte Bitte
3. Thames Soup
4. Modern Rock
5. Inside Me Dead
6. Morning Riff
7. Orange and Mango
9. Sideways Glance
10. Friendly Society
The new songs from Fandango sound even better live and my favourites from that show were Thames Soup, Sideways Glance and the encore. I found out that they were planning to play 40 Years, but decided to have a go with Friendly Society for the first time in this tour and it was awesome and well received!
The atmosphere was very friendly and the Brighton audience was lovely and welcomed the band and new songs really well, so Sam promised they will come back next time, because they love Brighton. I will also have great memories connected with this city, because Sam thanked me officially. My name and the name of this website was something I didn’t expect to hear from the stage, so I wasn’t sure if I did hear what I heard. After the show some people who follow me on Twitter came over to me to say Hi and talk about the show and the band. It was very nice and it’s always great to meet more fans!
Anyway, if The Phoenix Foundation play near you next time, go and see them, because the new material is out of this world! And it’s not a talk of just one adoring fan.
In the April/May issue of NZ Musician, Amanda Mills sits with Sam Scott to discuss the Phoenix Foundation’s new album, Fandango.
The Phoenix Foundation’s previous album ‘Buffalo’, came after a series of solo albums from the various members. When NZM’s Amanda Mills talked to Luke Buda ahead of that early 2010 release he mentioned it had been shaping up as a double album until they’d culled 25 songs down to a more manageable ten. Returning to the market with their fifth LP, exactly three years on, the musically profuse Wellingtonians have this time given in to temptation, producing a double album they’ve called ‘Fandango’. This time round Amanda talked with Samuel Flynn Scott.
I last talked to The Phoenix Foundation in 2010, just before the release of their fourth album ‘Buffalo’, discussing with Luke Buda the band’s plans for the album release and promotion, the departure of their bassist and label changes. Fast forward three years and the band (now comprising originals Samuel Flynn Scott, Luke Buda and Conrad Wedde, long timers Will Ricketts and Tom Callwood, and drummer-come-lately Chris O’Connor) are in fine form, preparing for the release of fifth long-player ‘Fandango’. There have been changes this time around too, as co-lead singer Sam Scott, divulged to me.
READ ON about
- a critical success of ‘Buffalo’
- changes in the band: Richie’s leaving to work on climate change projects and acquiring Chris
“I have to say, it’s a pretty good reason to leave a band, to try and save the planet!” ventures Scott. Much to his disbelief the in-demand O’Connor was available.
“I don’t understand how we’ve ended up with him in the band – it’s just too good to be true.”
- who is credited to the title of the album
- musical influences for Fandango and finding their own style in Friendly Society
“It may not sound like anything on any of our records, but that song is very true to the sort of music that we aim to make,” says Scott emphatically. “In Friendly Society, we just fully went there into psychedelic [areas].”
- lyric inspirations
- if the band’s focus has changed
“Ultimately, we make Phoenix Foundation records now. I think maybe a few records ago, we were, ‘We’ve got to try something that’s like this, or try something out like that’. We’re not confused about what sort of music we make… you get to the point where you know you’re making the music that’s your own music.”
On Friday 10th May, soon before their second show during the UK tour, Sam talked to Jason Ross from the internet Croydon Radio.
They talked about:
- the relief of finally kicking off the tour and playing new songs in Glasgow
- experience of performing at Later… with Jools Holland
- hopes to play in Poland one day
- looking forward to playing more shows in the UK and Europe
- highlights of Fandango according to Jason
- beard domination in the band
There was also a chance to win 2 tickets for the London show.
Guess who got them? Yep, Jason gave them to me. Thank you!