The co-headlining Summer Odyssey Tour featuring Beck and Phoenix came to New York City's Madison Square Garden on Saturday night and feature a compelling opening set by the wonderful Weyes Blood in addition to the two indie rock titans.
Taking the stage at 8:00pm, Natalie Mering led her band through a condensed version of her recent show that has been happening in support of last year's excellent And In the Darkness, Hearts Aglow (I caught the full show back in March) and made a wonderful transition from small theatres to the mighty arena stage. Basked in a glowing purple hue, the stage was adorned with candelabras and as Natalie emerged in a shimmering white gown (complete with cape), she led the slowly filling space through a seance like set of her darkest and warmest songs. Like a gothic Carole King or a Joni Mitchell highly under the influence of some truly mind altering substances, her music was a profound ambient folk. "Everyday" is a bouyant pop gem that hits with the same pop tenacity as a Laurel Canyon tunes with Momma and the Poppas-esque "ba ba ba bas." "Andromeda" allowed her to take full use of the massive video screens and displayed a light-speed visual of traveling through the cosmos and she upped the anti even further with "God Turned Me Into a Flower," her most abstract and distant song that was enhanced with a short film that really highlighted the space in the track and felt transformative as it echoed through the giant space. "This is the vibiest room" Mering would say during her set and she made sure she did everything in her power to set the tone for the night ahead.
Phoenix played second, but their performance was every bit as worthy as a headliner set as you'd expect and they came primed and ready to deliver. Opening with the still euphoric "Listzomania," the band wasted no time hitting the stage and sending things right into hyperdrive. They followed with "Entertainment" and a vivacious "Lasso" both of which had the crowd pumped up and ready to unleash all of their inner fury and transform it into electric, positive dance moves. "Too Young" was mashed up with "Girlfriend" and had the band introducing some of the chicest musical moments with groovy synths lines and those killer hooks that mentally transport you to the coolest beachside club you could possibly imagine. They used the screens behind them much to the same effect as last year's tour in support of their recent record Alpha Zulu and displayed crystal clear depictions of European museums, palaces, courtyards, galaxies, and jewels, making their set even more opulent than you'd expect and providing the perfect backdrops for the their synth-pop epics that rattle with the rhythm of hardcore tracks thanks to their beast of a drummer who has been holding down the band's set from behind the kit for years and makes their sound explode with absolute force. The band's popularity has wanned over the years and while they've never been able to recapture the glory that found them in 2009, they still play like they're headlining arenas and festivals even when the venue might not be quite that so to see them actually get to bring their mass energy to New York's most impressive room, it felt like a real homecoming. "Last time we played here, we brought out Daft Punk," (I was there!) Mars told the crowd and while their guest this time around wasn't of the same caliber, it was still a treat when they invited Clairo onstage to lend her vocals to the bop "After Midnight." Bringing their friendly influences into the picture, the mash-up of "If I Ever Feel Better" and "Funky Squaredance" felt the EMD vibes the most heavily as twitching electronics melted away over the blissed-out guitars and really brought home the feeling the early 2000s as the band locked-in tight to deliver laser-focused renditions of these devilishly sweet hooks. In true form, the band concluded their set with "1901" which once again found Mars making his way through the crowd and into the back of the arena and crowd surfing back to the stage while the infectious melody of the song reigned supreme over the Garden. It's a powerful moment in any show and to witness it never gets boring, but it was hard to believe that another act would somehow have to follow it.
If there's anyone who could be up for the job, Beck was a prime candidate and when he jumped on stage and bursted into "Devil's Haircut," it was clear that he brought the rock star energy needed to close out a major night. In leather pants and a double-breasted suit jacket, Beck looked the part and when he strapped on his guitar, he blazed through some of the biggest hits of his career and proved just why he's been such a force since the mid '90s and how his music feels timeless, a man full of all-time classics at his disposal whenever he needs them. For a man with such a storied career and wide-ranging discography, there are so many versions of a Beck show and while his intimate and acoustic sets might feel more special, seeing him own a stage as a prime time rock star is never something to miss. "Mixed Bizness" was another treat that added some funk into the mix and "New Pollution" brought in a psychedelic twist, both of which aided to the night tremendously and had the crowd rejoicing at their rock and roll savior before them. "Qué Undo Guero" from the underrated album Guero was a great surprise in the set and following it with the record's sublime tune "Girl" brought the energy to the next level. Dancing back and forth across the stage and running up and down the stairs to an elevated platform, Beck was non-stop in getting the crowd on their feet and to feel apart of the wild energy that was flowing from the stage and for a moment, I almost forgot that we had just seen a headlining set from Phoenix as well. "There are some Midnite Vultures among us" he hollered out before upping the funk and cool factor on the sultry "Nicotine & Gravy," a song that got people to shake their hips and bust out some killer grooves as R&B vibes began to hit hard and when he busted out "Debra," it was an all out scene as mirrorball glitter reflected across the stage and Beck hit that croon with such passion and devotion it was enough to make any one's heart full on melt. As mentioned, there are many sides to Beck and while his rock star energy and the beats from a bong mentality are what initially got him on the map and up the charts, his softer side is what established him as a real-deal songwriter and any time to hear him play those sullen ballads is a special moment. "The Golden Age" was a lovely number that cooled things down for a moment and highlighted the side of Beck many forget or missed along the way, but hearing MSG sing the song back to him was a powerful feeling and seeing the cellphone lights in the air was extra touching. He continued the Sea Change portion of the show with "Lost Cause," another gem from that album, but after a faked technical difficulty, he revealed Phoenix on the stage who acted as the backing band for the song and added their own synthy shimmer to it, removing the melancholy for something a bit more emphatic and joyful. The band stayed on stage and was then joined by Natalie Mering to deliver the track "Odyssey," a song which Beck recorded with Phoenix as a fun thing to do for the tour and provided a moment for the two legends to get together each night on stage to do a track that really does sound equally their own. From there, Beck blasted through the hits, playing a sick steel guitar into before leading the crowd through a fuzzed-out version of "Loser" and then coming back to blast away on the harmonica for his solo rendition of "One Foot in the Grave." He closed it out with an electric "E-Pro" that had the crowd buzzing before throwing down a killer "Where It's At" to send everyone home.