Readers, Texas is hot. I mean, so hot that you can crack an egg and fry it to a nice over easy without trying. But even that old Texas heat couldn’t keep me from accomplishing another one of my goals: to see artists from the first CD I burned for my old 2003 GMC Envoy. Back then getting music playing in your vehicle was a trip, you’d have to own the music, load it to your iPod, and use some accessory to run the sound through aux via cassette. I kept it simple and made playlists and just kept many discs on hand. Most importantly, Track 01 was “1901” by Phoenix.
So earlier this summer when I saw Beck AND Phoenix coming right down the street from me, I geared up for the presale codes. If you’re not familiar with them, sometimes artists do pre-sales so you can beat the rush when the tickets go public. Typically all it entails is to sign up for an email newsletter or be a cardholder of certain credit cards. Sadly, even these can go crazy, just see Emily’s adventure in securing Taylor Swift tickets! An outside concert in late August is not the most appealing time with triple-digit weather but for dedicated fans like myself, we will endure anything for a good show. I’m happy to say, that’s exactly what it was.
My introduction to Beck and Phoenix
Beck and Phoenix joined together for this Summer Odyssey tour and even went the distance to release a single with that name. For those not familiar with either, let me brief you. Phoenix is a band from France that has been steadily releasing pop since… 1995! Beck has been a radio mainstay since the late ’90s with the first track off of Mellow Gold with his catchy single, “Loser”. This rolled him into a deal with Geffen Records and as they say, the rest is history. Even beyond his mega-hit, he persists on the air with other great tunes scattered over a dozen albums and decades (yikes, I’m no youngin’ anymore). My introduction to him came with his album Guero with the rocktastic “E-Pro” easily my favorite from him. It featured another fun ride-along jam “Girl” and an eclectic “Que Onda Guero“.
Phoenix came from a love of discovering indie music before we had Spotify or Apple Music to allow us both to uncover hidden gems and broaden our libraries. It wasn’t until 2009’s Grammy award-winning entry Wolfgang Amadeus Phoenix that they were on my radar. Most of their most popular songs came from this album with their biggest hit “1901” entering as the second track on it.
Making our way downtown, faces pass, walking fast
Today’s venture was at The Cynthia Mitchell Woods Pavilion in the Woodlands, around an hour north of Houston, Texas, or about 40 miles if you’re a Yankee. (My fellow Texans understand that we measure distances by time, not miles.) It’s very close to the I-45 freeway and next to Market Street which is great for a pre-show meal or stroll if you arrive early enough. Thanks to modern technology, it’s as simple as walking up, holding my Apple Watch to an NFC device, and a handwave into the show. They do have water refilling stations as long as you bring a container without a lid or top. In the extreme heat of Texas summers, it’s highly recommended to do that for yourself and your wallet.
As always, I opt to sit on the lawn, the covered section is only really worth it if you find yourself out there for longer shows. The sun sets behind the top of the lawn which results in good temperature drops. For this tour, they had a squared arch LED that towered around 20 feet, along with an upper deck that fit up to three individual musicians (percussion, keyboard, and one string player). On both sides of the stage, there are big screens used to show the crowd as well as close-ups of the acts.
Round 1: Phoenix
Sadly, due to the weather, we ran late and missed the opening songs “Lisztomania”, and “Lasso”. Two songs that I was very excited to hear live after so many years. We entered as they were wrapping up “Too Young” / “Girlfriend” and “Ti Amo” came on which is an older jam from them known to the most loyal of fans. Thomas (lead singer of Phoenix) tried his best to time it well but said they typically perform “Love Like a Sunset” as the sun is setting, but the timing didn’t pan out.
Yet the visuals on the board holding the band had some absolute mind-benders. One sequence started off zoomed in to microscopic levels and then slowly panned away into the cosmos. At one point it reaches millions and millions and millions of miles away and makes its way back. Paired with an experimental reprise of sorts from the band, it was a moment for pause.
Every band has that ONE song even they know they have to play live. In this case, it was “1901” and they saved it for the near end. The bright guitar riffs, submarine echoing samples, and high-energy drum beat were in full effect. The visuals perfectly synced to provide a beautiful strobing effect with the notes as they hit harmoniously.
What happened next was just unexpected. Thomas decided to go out into the crowd and take a lap. The spotlight followed him (along with a half dozen security detail) and the longest cable I’ve ever seen. This is after Thomas grabbed the camera used to look at the crowd and pointed it through a telescope to look at the fans far in the back (like me! Haha).
Round 2: Beck
With a 30-minute break and precise timing, the lights go down, it’s complete darkness and boom! A single light shines on Beck in full cowboy gear, and he begins slowly with “Devil’s Haircut”. Not even two lines into the verse the crowd is already singing and clapping along, relieved by the darkness keeping some heat away.
A couple of other songs out of the way, he leads into the songs I listed at the top “Que Onda Guero“ and “Girl“. One that surprised the hell out of me, was the song that followed. “Wow“, not for the song content but for the mesmerizing pattern on the LEDs and funky dance moves from Beck. I paused back into my lawn chair for the next couple of songs to cool back down but got on my feet and into the groove when he hit the main riff for “Soul of a Man“.
Anyone who’s played some FIFA in their lifetime will recognize the anthem “Dreams“, which I belted out for every chorus and bounced around in my little area on the green when it slowed down for the guitar strumming towards the middle.
Beck propelled this momentum into “Loser“, his undoubted biggest single. Rather than just go straight into it, he gave a moment to catch a breath and soloed a slide guitar intro. Once the audience caught on to the intro to “Loser”, Beck kicked the rest of the song into a full spectacle. Singing some of the strangest lyrics to hit mainstream radio was a delight as the crowd had a variety of faces and a refreshingly large amount of younger ones.
I was only left wanting one thing, “E-Pro“, and man did it deliver better than anything in recent times. The crunchiness I desired from the guitar melted into my brain as my eyes raced to absorb every piece of the neo-cyber background that persisted. With that high note, it was followed up with the classic “Where It’s At“ and the swan song was the tour single itself, “Summer Odyssey“. Phoenix came back on stage and performed the song along with Beck in a very familial manner that goes with the theme of summer and peace.
Due to the small crowds, we managed to exit rather quickly from the area at the prompt 10:30 end time because of local noise ordinances.
Final thoughts on the Summer Odyssey Tour with Beck and Phoenix
Overall, I found the concert worth my time even for the extreme temperatures I faced. Seeing that a few tour dates are left to go in much cooler climates makes me jealous of those who get to enjoy this show in other areas! Even with the sweltering heat, both artists absolutely pushed themselves to put on great shows (while dressed in much warmer clothing than myself) for a beautiful Sunday evening.
Beck is still touring, so catch him when he comes to a city near you! Have you seen him live or plan to? Let us know on Twitter or in The Cosmic Circus Discord.