The sonic spectacle of Phoenix in Manila

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Phoenix’s second concert in Manila was both a visual and musical spectacle, catering to a crowd ready to take part in their performance. Photo by CECILIA FORBES/KARPOS MULTIMEDIA

Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — Before the French rock band Phoenix came to Manila, they told fans that Filipinos were a “crazy and epic crowd,” one worth coming back to. It’s a common sentiment shared by various international acts visiting the Philippines — and whether the intent is to drive ticket sales or to truly distinguish the local crowd, Filipino concertgoers are more than happy to eat the compliment up, eager to welcome, listen, and dote on their favorite acts live.

The compliment is arguably a mark of Filipinos’ celebratory culture, a curious indication of the manner by which we adore our celebrities. In a divergent media landscape, Phoenix — a foreign band with a niche audience — is an interesting study on how fans perform alongside the objects of their fandom.

In their concert on August 15, local band Tom’s Story preceded the entrance of Thomas Mars, Laurent Brancowitz, Christian Mazzalai, and Deck d'Arcy, who proceeded to play “J-Boy” — their first single off the new album “Ti Amo.” The band’s tour, which jumped off from the theme of “mirrors and duality,” was a visual spectacle aside from being a musical showcase of the band’s greatest hits. “Lasso,” from the 2010 Grammy award-winning album “Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix,” followed “J-Boy” almost immediately, the audience buoyed by the collective energy filling the 2,385-seater stadium.

Lead vocalist Thomas Mars sang and moved on stage as the band performed songs from their new album, "Ti Amo." Photo by CECILIA FORBES/KARPOS MULTIMEDIA

Within the small Kia Theater, lights flashed and rendered audiences in stop-motion; dancing bodies and upturned hands were rendered in freeze frame. Phoenix performed before an audience that was ready to love them. Thus, notwithstanding an audio system that slightly diminished Mars’ voice or made the musical instruments sound less than stellar, each performance was preceded by muffled screams of adoration, and bookended by the same.

There are pitfalls, of course, that come with live performances of musical acts, one which the band almost seems immune from. Phoenix is lauded as a band that performs exceptionally well live as they do on their records, and if one attentively listens to their songs hours before the concert (as I did), there is little reason for the band to disappoint.

Thomas Mars, Deck d'Arcy, and Laurent Brancowitz. Photo by CECILIA FORBES/KARPOS MULTIMEDIA

One of my favorite performances was “Role Model” from “Ti Amo” — a better first single than “J-Boy,” in my opinion — which features an addictive staccato hook leading up to the chorus (So sudden/ d'you hear the /quiet/ summer/ breeze/ outside?). Live, the rhythm gets to build up to a satisfying climax, one of many from a crowd that together, seems to know all the words to the band’s discography. “We’re meant to get it on,” they croon collectively, as Mars lets their voices fill the stadium for “Fior Di Latte.”

I have a friend who celebrated the eve of her birthday jumping up and down to the Phoenix concert. An hour later, during the encore, Mars proceeded to crowdsurf over the right side of the audience area, where she was. It was an unsuccessful attempt, as my friend fell over as the crowd bent to accommodate Mars, who was already lying on a bed made of his fans’ expectant hands. For a moment, it seemed as if someone got hurt and the Phoenix concert would be marred by an injury. Mars told the crowd to move back, or else the concert will not continue.

Fans gather around Thomas Mars as he ventured to the middle of the crowd. Photo by CECILIA FORBES/KARPOS MULTIMEDIA

But my friend seemed all right; in her Instagram stories thereafter, she posted a snippet of “Love Like a Sunset,” an instrumental performance from the concert’s halfway mark, and a personal highlight from a generous set list that also included early hits “If I ever feel better,” “Lisztomania,” and the concert ender “1901.”

Despite the slight mishap, which was immediately forgiven, the show went on. Mars walked to the other side of the theater, climbed over to an awaiting audience, and was immediately welcomed anew with upturned hands. In the middle of the crowd, he looked like an idol: the kind Filipinos carry in religious processions. Simultaneous with explosions of white confetti, it’s one of those visions that involuntary impress itself in the memory.

Confetti showered all over the theater as Phoenix ended the concert. Photo by CECILIA FORBES/KARPOS MULTIMEDIA

In an age where it’s too easy to get lost in your headphones and control your own listening experience, there’s still a place for concerts in today’s digital music age because more than anything, fans attend not only to see the acts perform. It’s a chance to engage in a collective, physical, and larger-than-life event (sweaty arms and fall risks aside) where the lines between stage and the audience blur, and where fans and performers merge as one.