Beck and Phoenix Make Every Moment Count at Breathless Moody Center Co-Headline

Dancing through three decades of songs from the two indie pop giants

Phoenix and Beck at the Moody Center on August 22 (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

With 21 albums between them, Beck and Phoenix had a lot of ground to cover at the Moody Center Tuesday night.

Yet the double-headliner Odyssey show, despite covering three decades of material from the two indie pop giants, zoomed through 37 songs in two tight sets without an ounce of bloat to trim.

Phoenix, up first after openers Sir Chloe and Weyes Blood, seemed cognizant of the time constraints. Seven songs in, bandleader Thomas Mars, known for his careful attention to the crowd, commented that he'd like to get to know everyone, but: "We have seven albums and an hour and fifteen, so there's not much time for chit-chat."

Phoenix (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

The time, instead, showcased the ebullient pop rock and infectious chemistry that they've honed through the years. Two percussionists sat elevated at the back of the stage, while Mars, keys, guitars, and bass played in a single-file row lining the front of the stage, breaking rank occasionally as shreds from the catalog sprang to life.

It was notable how well songs off of 2022's Alpha Zulu sat next to tracks from 2009's Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix or, reaching further back, even 2000's United. That's a testament to Phoenix's consistency, their ability through the decades to stay rooted in who they are and draw a common thread between works. A mash-up of "If I Ever Feel Better" and "Funky Squaredance," two of the very first songs they wrote as a band, flowed perfectly into year-old track "Tonight," cut from the same dancey pop cloth. Same for the intense anticipation of the synth build up in "Love Like a Sunset," echoed through the moody "Winter Solstice."

Phoenix (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

That consistency held true for their on-stage presence, too. Despite a time crunch, the band delivered on the details and attention to showmanship they’re known for. Some were new: Several times throughout, a cloaked figure in a white mask appeared after the lights dropped out, at one point "beheading" Mars. Others were familiar: Mars asked four times to bring the lights up so he could see the crowd. And for at least four minutes at the end of a tight run, he took the time to do his traditional romp through the crowd, climbing into the different raised sections to wave as a harried AV guy followed him with the mic cord.

Bookending with two of Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix's biggest hits, "Lisztomania" and "1901," also felt like a nod: We know what you want, and we're here to deliver.

Phoenix (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

The last time Beck played Austin was South by Southwest 2022, where he offered a mostly solo acoustic set at ACL Live. The Moody Center show highlighted a very different side of a wide-ranging career, picking some of his funkiest cuts. Early Beck albums featured prominently in the setlist, delivered with a surety that only comes with having performed the songs a million times. Mining the dancier moments, Beck flexed his pop star frontman persona as he flitted up and down stairs between the two stage levels.

"Devils Haircut" roared the show to life, the crunchy guitars taking on more heft in a live setting, continuing at a breakneck pace through the high-octane "Mixed Bizness" and, later in the first half of the set, bumping the energy to 100 again with "Nicotine & Gravy." "Debra," from 1999's Midnite Vultures, seemed to serve as a demarcation point, the absurdist, falsetto ode to a shop worker (and her sister, of course) allowing Beck to culminate his sexed-up vibes. "Debra," perhaps more than any other song, seemed to get to the die-hards: I saw a group of strangers turn to each other for high fives when the warbled first notes rang out.

Beck (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

For the second half, Beck picked up the guitar. "Gamma Ray" and "Soul of a Man" exemplified the hard-driving, playing-to-the-rafters side of his guitar work, which he was able to hone in a different light for a brief two-song Sea Change interlude. A standout in Beck's hour-and-a-half set, the pace slowed to let "The Golden Age" shimmer to life, the delicate acoustic moments and flawless harmonies ringing out over the crowd. "Lost Cause," which Beck invited the audience to put up their phone lights for, to pretend he was singing under the stars with them, similarly stilled.

The crowd was treated to a few other purer showcases of Beck's musicianship throughout the dance party. He sat alone on stage for an extended blues guitar solo that eventually kicked off "Loser," and most of "One Foot in the Grave" was only him and a harmonica, asking for call and response vocals from the audience.

The night culminated with Phoenix back on stage, sharing the summertime serotonin dose, "Odyssey," which they wrote together for the tour. For "Where It's At," both of the bands, plus the openers, crowded the stage as big inflatables bounced across the general admission crowd in front, bringing a show that hardly had a moment to catch its breath to a celebratory conclusion.

Beck (Photo by David Brendan Hall)
Phoenix and Beck (Photo by David Brendan Hall)
Phoenix and Beck (Photo by David Brendan Hall)
Weyes Blood (Photo by David Brendan Hall)

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