When it came time for MTV News rock editor James Montgomery and I to divvy up the headlining sets on Saturday night (August 7), it came down to a matter of convenience. James was committed to checking out the pyro-heavy spectacular that was the Green Day show, so it fell to me to watch Phoenix on the north side of Chicago's Grant Park. I didn't have anything against Phoenix before I went over to check out their set, but I have to admit that I was ignorant of most of their output (outside of the ubiquitous "1901," of course).
What I discovered was something that the thousands gathered on the field with me already knew: Phoenix are incredibly awesome. Their ability to mix genres and sound effortlessly cool without sounding at all pretentious is pretty amazing, and most of their songs (especially the tunes from Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix) are as anthemic as anything you hear on pop radio. From the opening notes of "Lisztomania" to the final chimes of an epic "1901," they transported the crowd to a place where old-school French cool (Godard movies, clove cigarettes, wan philosophical musings) were the best thing you could possibly indulge in.
I was inspired by one particular incident. Before the show, I noticed that I was standing behind a trio of girls who were probably 16 or 17. They looked tired — clearly, a day full of rocking in the heat had taken a toll on them. But as soon as Phoenix launched into their opening number, the trio in front of me went absolutely ape. They danced, they sang along and gleefully waved their hands in the air as though they had never felt as good as they did at that very moment. That is the power of rock and roll, and it's why I come back to Lollapalooza year after year.